West Point Clears Black Cadets Who Raised Fists In Pre-Graduation Photo

May 10, 2016
Originally published on May 11, 2016 6:52 pm

West Point has said that 16 black female cadets did not violate any Department of Defense or Army regulations by posing with their fists raised in a photo taken ahead of their graduation from the academy.

No punitive action will be taken against the women after an inquiry found that their gesture was intended to demonstrate "unity" and "pride," a statement from the institution said.

The statement also said that the inquiry concluded "that based upon available evidence none of the participants, through their actions, intended to show support for a political movement," which would violate DOD Directive 1344.10.

As the Two-Way reported Monday, the women have not publicly commented on why they held up their fists, but plenty of other people have weighed in on the photo. The myriad reactions ranged from sympathetic support for the women to historical analysis of the gesture to disappointment and anger.

In the past, the raised fist has been used, among other things, to symbolize black power.

Perhaps most notably, John Carlos, a black sprinter who represented the United States in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, and his teammate Tommie Smith, stood on the podium after the 200-meter dash, each with a black-gloved fist held in the air above their heads while "The Star-Spangled Banner" played.

"I didn't go there for the medal, I went there for the statement," said John Carlos on NPR's Tell Me More in 2011:

"The gesture was intended to be noble, not negative. It was meant to bring attention to the injustices occurring in the United States, where the civil rights movement was in full swing. The U.S. was in the midst of racial turmoil — a war against a separate and unequal society."

According to The Associated Press, a mentor to the women said "they were simply celebrating their forthcoming graduation."

Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., academy superintendent, wrote a letter addressing the photo, part of which was included in the West Point statement. It read:

"As members of the Profession of Arms, we are held to a high standard, where our actions are constantly observed and scrutinized in the public domain. We all must understand that a symbol or gesture that one group of people may find harmless may offend others. As Army officers, we are not afforded the luxury of a lack of awareness of how we are perceived."

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