Central Grad Recognizes Contributions of Black Servicemembers at WWI Memorial Day Ceremony
The National World War I Museum and Memorial looms large in Lt. Gen. Larry Jordan's boyhood memories.
“I hope that you will excuse me if I occasionally and erroneously happen to refer to the memorial as Liberty Memorial,” Lt. Gen. Jordan said in his keynote address at the museum's Memorial Day Ceremony. “I grew up here in Kansas City in the 1950s and early 1960s. Liberty Memorial, as it was then known, was both awe-inspiring and a favored landmark. Every schoolchild knew about the memorial, had probably visited it, but I doubt few really understood and appreciated the full significance.
“I certainly didn't. For me, it took four years at West Point, thirty-five years in uniform, service in places like Vietnam, Kuwait and Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo and along the East and West German border to truly understand the enormity of the sacrifice those heroes of World War I and other conflicts made.”
Lt. Gen. Jordan, a 1964 Central High School graduate, became interested in a military career while participating in JROTC. He was an active and involved student who served as chairman of the Senior Class Cabinet and sergeant at arms of the Honor Society.
Although President Harry Truman had integrated the armed services by executive order in 1948, very few Black students were appointed to West Point in the 1950s and ‘60s. Less than 2% of Lt. Gen. Jordan’s class was Black, and just nine Black students would graduate from West Point in 1968. At the time, nearly a quarter of all combat troops in Vietnam were Black.
In his speech, Lt. Gen. Jordan praised the heroism of Black soldiers, who have served in every American conflict to date.
“Seeing Black soldiers perform bravely (during WWI) helped change some but not all minds concerning their ethnic biases,” Lt. Gen. Jordan said. “Equally important, it convinced the minority communities of their value and right to share in the benefits of freedom, justice, and democracy at home, since they had fought to preserve those benefits for others in Europe. The war effort served to shine a light on the hypocrisy resulting from how our stated principles differed from our practices in society.”
Lt. Gen. Jordan’s visit to the National WWI Museum and Memorial coincided with the opening of a new exhibit, “Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow,” which explores the struggle for racial equity that began after the Civil War.
KCPS Summer Academy Co-Coordinator Jessica Power said fifth grade students will get to visit the exhibit as part of their service learning project, “KCPS Scholars Matter.” This unit teaches students about identity through history.
“Providing students with experiences throughout the community adds a culturally responsive, real-world and interactive lens that enhances our curriculum,” Power said. “We strive to empower our students to be active in their communities. It’s important that our students experience and reflect on those throughout history who have done the same.”
Lt. Gen. Jordan concluded his Memorial Day remarks by reminding the audience that the Armed Forces are often at the forefront of change in society.
“Still, change is often slow and difficult,” he said. “Each generation must sometimes relearn hard lessons and overcome deeply ingrained obstacles.”