A photo showing 16 African-American female cadets raising clenched fists has sparked controversy at West Point’s elite military academy.
The women reportedly took dozens of photos to celebrate their graduation, but the one featuring the fists, posted to social media several weeks ago, has gotten the most attention.
West Point officials are now investigating whether the image violates academy rules that restrict political expression while in uniform.
The raised fist, which has long been a symbol of unity for African Americans, is also associated with the Black Lives Matter movement.
“There’s a tradition at West Point for seniors where they pose and they have a very stoic look on their face intended to be a throwback to the old days,” Anthony Lombardo, editor of the Army Times told ABC News. “What makes this photo different is everyone is kind of doing the pose but then there is the clenched fist in the air. If these men and women are in uniform, and they’re making a political statement, they could afoul of the Defense Department regulation, and they could be in serious trouble for that.”
The New York Times reported that the 16 cadets in the photo represented all but one of the black women in West Point's 2016 graduating class of about 1,000.
Defending the young cadets is Brenda Sue Fulton, a 1980 West Point graduate, former Army captain, and chairwoman of the U.S. Military Academy’s Board of Visitors.
“When I spent time with these cadets and heard them tell their stories and laugh and joke with each other, there’s no doubt in my mind how much they love West Point, they love the Army and they support each other,” Fulton told the Army Times.
She tweeted out a different photo of the women without raised fists with the caption, “THIS. Fearless, flawless, fierce. Ready.” That tweet was then retweeted by Patrick Murphy, acting secretary of the U.S. Army.
“I would not have re-tweeted the raised-fist photo because I am well aware that our culture views a black fist very differently from a white fist,” she said. “I knew it was their expression of pride and unity, but I am old enough to know that it would be interpreted negatively by many white observers. Unfortunately, in their youth and exuberance, it appears they didn’t stop to think that it might have any political context, or any meaning other than their own feeling of triumph.”
Lt. Col. Christopher Kasker, director of Public Affairs for the U.S. Military Academy, told ABC News, “Academy officials are conducting an inquiry into the matter.”
The women graduate from West Point on May 21.