A few yards in front of a flagpole Monday, with Old Glory flapping in the breeze, Brenda Brown looked into a maroon hymnal and breathed into a microphone.
Many of the roughly 60 attendees, including the 25 veterans standing behind her, joined Brown – a member of the New Beginnings Choral Ensemble – in singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
The singing helped close a Memorial Day tribute to black veterans at the Jessie Clipper Monument, which stands at the intersection of William Street and Michigan Avenue near downtown.
Clipper, an Army private, was the first black soldier from Buffalo to die in World War I.
He was wounded at the front in France, returned to his unit after being hospitalized but was gassed soon thereafter. Before he could return home, he died in a hospital in France in 1919 and was buried there.
Before his deployment, Clipper had been vice president of Colored Musicians Local No. 533 in Buffalo.
The Memorial Day tribute was organized by Eva M. Doyle, a columnist, historian and retired Buffalo Public Schools elementary teacher who shared a poem she wrote about Clipper.
“Today I salute a man whose name I hope will forever stand,” she said.
Clipper’s monument was established by the Common Council in 1935.
“This is a solemn day to recognize those who’ve given their lives for our freedom,” said Rep. Brian Higgins, who attended the tribute after participating in Tonawanda’s Memorial Day Parade.
“And whether it’s Washington, D.C., or at the corner of William and Michigan, the spirit is the same – and that is a solemn, respectful appreciation for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in war,” he said.
Mayor Byron W. Brown delivered a brief history lesson on African-Americans who’ve given all for their country, explaining that more than 1.3 million U.S. soldiers have died in war and approximately 165,000 of those veterans were black.
Brown expressed gratitude for Doyle’s efforts in recognizing those heroes, saying she “brings history alive.”
Doyle last held the gathering in 1995, when she brought two bus- loads of her students. That day, the group had a flag but didn’t have a way to hoist it to the top of the 15-foot pole. Doyle’s son, Jesse, then 9 years old, climbed the pole and put the flag up. Jesse was also on hand Monday.
“There was an urgency in my spirit to do this one more time,” Doyle said Monday.
Erie County Legislature Minority Leader Betty Jean Grant read the war poem “In Flanders Fields,” leaving the microphone after reciting the memorable phrase, “Never forget: All gave some, and some gave all.”
Eighteen small flags, planted in the ground, encircled the Jessie Clipper monument, which is inscribed: “In memory of the valiant service of Negroes in all wars of these United States of America to the glory of God.”
The tribute closed with the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance.