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Why is there a Ku Klux Klan plaque mounted above an entrance at West Point?

The Naming Commission, set up to identify Confederacy-linked names at US military installations, highlighted the plaque at the famous officers’ academy.

Update:
The Mississippi state flag is removed in 2021 after governor Tate Reeves signed a bill into law replacing the current one, which includes a Confederate emblem.

A congressional committee set up in the wake of the civil protests that swept the US in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd at the hands of a law enforcement official in Minneapolis in 2020 has reported that a plaque commemorating the Ku Klux Klan is mounted above the entrance to a building at West Point, the US Army’s elite officer training school in New York State. The plaque, which forms part of a triptych on West Point’s Bartlett Hall science centre, shows a hooded man carrying what looks like a rifle with the words “Ku Klux Klan” engraved beneath.

The existence of the plaque was published in a report by the Naming Commission, a congressional panel created under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2021 to identify US military infrastructure bearing the names of figures from the Confederacy and to recommend their removal or renaming. The commission has so far identified nine US Army bases with Confederate-linked names, such as Fort Lee and Fort Pickett in Texas and Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and made recommendations to change them. Part two of the commission’s report focused on the US Military Academy at West Point and the US Naval Academy in Maryland, finding a “small number of Confederacy-affiliated assets on both campuses that require renaming, relocating, modification, or removal.”

The commission described the Ku Klax Klan plaque as being among “Confederacy-affiliated assets on West Point,” that while not under the direct remit of the panel, “are recommended for a final disposition review by West Point.” The Naming Commission was set up specifically to deal with Department of Defense assets bearing names with direct links to the Confederacy, but elected to notify the Secretary of Defense for further action.

“The Commission encourages the Secretary of Defense to address DoD assets that highlight the KKK in Defense Memorialization processes and create a standard disposition requirement for such assets,” the panel said in its report.

West Point issued a statement after the report was made public. “As a values-based institution, we are fully committed to creating a climate where everyone is treated with dignity and respect,” it read, adding that the inclusion of the Ku Klax Klan plaque was part of an overall intention to depict “both tragedy and triumph” in American history. The triptych also features busts of Confederate General Robert E. Lee – a West Point graduate - and J. E. B. Stuart.

Who were the Ku Klux Klan?

The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was established after the Confederacy was dissolved by the administration of Confederate President Jefferson Davis after the Confederate Army effectively ceased to exist as an effective fighting force when Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox. Six former Confederate officers founded the KKK in Tennessee in December, 1865, during the Reconstruction period in the South that followed the Civil War and it is the oldest white supremacist group in the United States. Although predominantly steeped in anti-black views, it has expressed anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant and anti-gay views during it history and has historically employed violence, terror tactics and assassinations.

Although membership of the so-called First Klan (1865-72) remains unknown, at its height the Second Klan, founded in 1915 and active until the 1930s, is estimated to have had between three and six million members.

Today, the KKK is heavily aligned with neo-Nazi, Islamophobic and white supremacist groups with a membership estimated at somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 (the Anti-Defamation estimated total KKK membership in the US at around 3,000 in 2016, while the Southern Poverty Law Center estimated double that number). The KKK is designated a domestic terrorist organization in the US.

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