The monument is the first in the nation
Remarks by Governor Kathy Hochul,
I’m so honored to be here because this has been a long journey for some of my friends, the people who had the vision to say that there has been a huge remiss in our nation’s history and acknowledging the contributions of so many who sacrificed their lives and willing to sacrifice their lives for the last 400 years.
I want to give a special shout-out to New York State’s Majority Leader, Crystal Peoples-Stokes, who fought for this here at the state level, at the national level. She was tenacious. And I’m so proud today to see the culmination of her fighting spirit because she never took no for an answer. Also, our local elected officials – I can’t name them all, but it is our Mayor Byron Brown’s birthday. And I have to say happy birthday to our Mayor. And Senator Kennedy, and also Brian Higgins, our great Congressman – so many have been here for a long time. And to Brenda others, and I’m not here to announce any books – just, you know, our county legislature. No, not going there.
But this is the dedication, the unveiling of not just Buffalo’s first, not just New York’s first, but our nation’s first African American Veteran Monument. And back in February, I pointed my members to the 400th anniversary commission, the 400 years of honoring African American history, 400 years. And you look back over the 400 years and I had Dr. Hazel Dukes, who’s a dear friend, the Leader of the NAACP. And I also asked Dr. Henry Taylor of Buffalo to be part of that creation of a narrative, a story that’s been long overdue, but a very special part of that has to be the untelling throughout history of the contributions of African Americans in the war and the veterans afterward. And I’m here today in my hometown to be able to see the beginning of the rightings of the wrongs. And this is personal to me. I literally, when I’m in town, it’s not as often as I like to be, but I ride my bike past this site. I’ve been watching it since that rainy day when we had shovels in the ground. Everybody remember that day? It’s a lot better. I said, “We got to do better than this, team.” And you did.
I ride my bike past and I’ve watched the cranes and the digging and the work and people working so hard to build something that I don’t want just to be for Buffalonians. I want this to be for our nation, and people from around the world, to say, “We might be a little late here, but at least we’re making it happen today.” And we go way back with this story. There are books written, books we read, but the very – the Boston Massacre, the very start of our fight for freedom. The very first casualty of that was a man named Crispus Attucks. And he died, the first one to die in our fight for freedom. And it’s not lost on me, what it’s like for him and the 5,000 people who followed African Americans in that war itself – our very first conflict for freedom, that they were fighting for freedom for a whole nation at a time when they had no freedoms themselves. Throughout history, that has been the case. You talk about the Hellfighters from Harlem. They were told to go over and you’re going to be able to fight, and you’re going to be on the frontlines. They were told to empty supply ships when they arrived in Europe. But when they’re finally needed, they’re responsible for taking down German battalions, and they finally got the recognition they deserve.
And I’ll close by saying one of the greatest honors of my life was to meet four of the original Tuskegee Airmen. They came to our state capital. I was able to present them with medals and to hear their stories that were immortalized in a movie. Let’s honor them. They’re the true heroes because they couldn’t eat or sleep or be retreated like the dignity of other men because of the color of their skin. And yet they persevered. They said, “I will go up in the air and I will take down our enemy. I’m fearless.” And finally, today we get to showcase for history, for immortality, those stories that have been lost up until this very year. So, I’m proud to be here, proud to be the Governor of a state that recognizes this, and proud of my local friends and the contributions of the community, and those who fought are serving in harm’s way today. God keep them safe. Those of those who sacrificed, lost their lives, and those who are members of the veterans community today. Thank you very much. And God bless America.