BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — 12 pillars are standing to resemble the twelve wars America has fought since the very beginning–with African Americans by their side every time.

“Recognize that African American veterans did do a part in this country, and we weren’t just sitting on the side, we did a very important part and that we should be recognized for,” said Robert Johnson, a Vietnam Navy veteran, that has his name on a brick that’s a part of the monument. “Little by little we learn that we can work together and everything is possible, everything is achievable so for that reason, that’s why we’re here.”

On Saturday, America’s first African American Veterans Monument was unveiled at the Buffalo Naval Park.

“There’s not a war this country has ever been in with somebody that looks like me wasn’t on the front lines. Not ever,” said Majority Leader, Crystal Peoples-Stokes. “There experiences are for a purpose and I really hope from the bottom of my heart, that people are getting it. That you’re getting it, that we are in this together. We’re going to go together or we’re going to fall together.”

Community leaders banded together to create a place where people can honor the African American men and women who defended our country’s freedoms–even when those freedoms weren’t honored for all.

“The promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was not a promise that we kept to them, but they still fought,” said Congressman Brian Higgins,.”246 years, 12 wars, every way in the history of this country courageous military service in the grateful nation, but not grateful enough to remove fully the segregation and discrimination that still exists today.”

These leaders hope that this monument will help tell the full story of American history, built to remind us of our past, teach future generations the stories of these heroes, and to teach the importance that unity has on our community.

“They were our heroes, they were our leaders,” said Legislator Howard Johnson (D), who is also a veteran himself, said on Saturday. “Having this monument is very important as many of our black soldiers were not able to enjoy the fruits of the labor and this monument will keep their heroism and their sacrifice they gave to our country alive.”

The monument includes twelve black pillars, designed by Jonathan Casey, a local Buffalo artist who passed away in 2020.

“For Jon this wasn’t about war, it was about peace, it was about people, it was about seeing each other more clearly,” said Congressman Higgins. “African Americans fought for American before there was an America.”

Along with the 12 black pillars and information on the help from African Americans in every war, bricks with names of African American veterans surround the ground of the pillars.

There are bricks still available, and if you would like your name or your loved one’s name on a brick, you can find out more information here.

Hope Winter is a reporter and multimedia journalist who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of her work here.