West Point celebrates Black History Month with observance

Photo By Brandon OConnor | Col. Hise Gibson, U.S. Military Academy systems engineering professor, speaks during the West Point Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity's Black History Month observance Feb. 14, 2020.
February 19, 2020

The U.S. Military Academy celebrated Black History Month with its annual luncheon observance Friday, Feb. 14.

The luncheon was hosted by the West Point Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity and included a talk by Col. Hise Gibson.

Gibson graduated from West Point in the Class of 1997 and serves as a professor in the systems engineering department. During his remarks, Gibson traced the legacy of impact African American graduates and mentors have had on shaping the academy.

He started in 1884 with the story of Charles Young, who graduated from West Point in 1889 as the third African American graduate from the academy. Gibson told the story of how during his career, Young inspired and tutored a young enlisted Soldier named Benjamin O. Davis Sr., who went on to become the first African American brigadier general in the Army.

Young’s influence carried on for another generation as Davis Sr.’s son Benjamin O. Davis Jr. graduated from West Point in 1936 before becoming an Air Force general. Their combined impact reverberated through history paving the way that led him to West Point, Gibson said.

“Charles Young, Benjamin O. Davis Sr. and Benjamin O. Davis Jr. made a great impact, but it wasn’t for them,” Gibson said. “It wasn’t about them. It was actually so a random young kid from a small town who’s deathly afraid of heights could think he can fly helicopters and have the great opportunity to serve with Soldiers on the team of teams in the 82nd Airborne Division. If it wasn’t for Col. Young engaging and identifying Benjamin O. Davis Sr. who randomly showed his son you can be a pilot, I wouldn’t exist.”

Gibson continued to trace the legacy of impact starting with Pat Locke, who graduated with the Class of 1980, the first to include women. Then to retired Lt. Gen. Nadja West, Class of 1982, the highest ranking female West Point graduate, and the African American female cadets who have followed them.

Along with talking about the importance of graduates who have gone on to have an impact and inspire future cadets, Gibson pointed out the role professors can have as mentors even if they aren’t graduates.

Gibson told the story of one of his professors from the academy, retired Maj. Gen. Barrye Price, who mentored him not just while he was a cadet, but who has kept “showing up” throughout his career and making an impact despite not being a West Point graduate.

Gibson then called on cadets, staff and faculty at the academy to have an impact, to show up and become role models for the next generation.

“What you have to realize is that all of you have an impact on others,” Gibson said. “Whenever you step foot off this installation, you represent excellence. You are the best America has to offer. In your engagements with students at LEADS, on your trip sections and on the sports field, even when you don’t realize anyone’s looking at you, someone’s always looking. They want to be like you.”

Following Gibson’s talk Betsey Blakeslee, a representative from the Friends of the American Revolution at West Point donated a small statue to the academy honoring the service of African American Soldiers at Fortress West Point.

The statue depicts Pvt. Agrippa Hull delivering a letter from Gen. George Washington to Col. Thaddeus Kosciuszko in 1780. The statue will be displayed in the West Point Library.