The impact of Black soldiers in our nation’s history is legendary.
The Buffalo Soldiers were a part of that legendary history, and were trendsetters that set the tone for other Black soldiers after the Civil War.
This year marks the 150th Anniversary Sesquicentennial Commemoration of the Buffalo Soldiers, and from Monday, July 25 through Saturday, July 30, the Houston museum will be the site of activities celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Buffalo Soldiers, as part of the 9th and 10th (Horse) Cavalry Association Annual Reunion.
The Houston museum has been chosen as the national headquarters of the association, which is the umbrella organization of more than 40 Buffalo Soldiers’ chapters across the country. Founded in 2001 by Captain Paul J. Matthews, an Army Vietnam veteran and African American military historian, the Houston museum is dedicated to preserving the legacy of Buffalo Soldiers. The exhibits cover seven wars, along with women in the military, chaplains in the military and astronauts. For more than 35 years, Matthews has collected military artifacts and has the largest collection of African American military memorabilia in the world. The museum offers programs and projects that reach out to community members of all ages.
Matthews said the upcoming anniversary marks a milestone in American history.
“In 1866, the U.S. Army reorganized and established the first peacetime Army,” said Matthews. “As a part of the reorganization, they created six Black units. This July 28th will be the 150th anniversary of the formation of those segregated units. We’re very excited about that. We will have our headquarters at the Houston Westchase Marriott and related activities at the museum.”
African Americans have fought in military conflicts since colonial days. However, the Buffalo Soldiers, comprised of former slaves, freemen and Black Civil War soldiers, were the first to serve during peacetime. Shortly after the Civil War, Congress authorized the formation of the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st Infantry Regiments: Six all Black peacetime units. Later the four infantry regiments were merged into the 24th and 25th Infantries.
In countless skirmishes and firefights, the troopers won the respect of the Plains warriors who named “Buffalo Soldiers.” African Americans accepted the badge of honor and wore it proudly.
Once the Westward movement had begun, prominent among those blazing treacherous trails of the Wild West were the Buffalo Soldiers of the U.S. Army. These African Americans were charged with and responsible for escorting settlers, cattle herds, and railroad crews. The 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments also conducted campaigns against American Indian tribes on a western frontier that extended from Montana in the Northwest to Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona in the Southwest. Throughout the era of the Indian Wars, approximately twenty percent of the U.S. Cavalry troopers were Black, and they fought over 177 engagements. The combat prowess, bravery, tenaciousness, and looks on the battlefield, inspired the Indians to call them Buffalo Soldiers. The name symbolized the Native American’s respect for the Buffalo Soldiers’ bravery and valor. Buffalo Soldiers, down through the years, have worn the name with pride.
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Buffalo Soldiers were assigned to the harshest and most desolate posts. Specific duties included subduing Mexican revolutionaries, outlaws, comercheros, rustlers and hostile Native Americans. Additional administrative duties included exploring and mapping the Southwest and establishing frontier outposts for future towns.
African Americans have fought with distinction in all of this country’s military engagements. However, some of their most notable contributions and sacrifices came during the Civil War. During that conflict, more than 180,000 African Americans wore the Union Army blue. Another 30,000 served in the Navy, and 200,000 served as workers on labor, engineering, hospital and other military support projects. More than 33,000 of these gallant soldiers gave their lives for the sake of freedom and their country.
Buffalo Soldiers participated in many other military campaigns: The Spanish American War, The Philippine Insurrection, The Mexican Expedition, World War I, World War II, and the Korean Police Action. At least 18 Medals of Honor were presented to Buffalo Soldiers during the Western Campaigns. Similarly, 23 African Americans received the nation’s highest military award during the Civil War.
Much has changed since the days of the Buffalo Soldiers, including the integration of all-military servicemen and women. However, the story of the Buffalo Soldiers remains one of unsurpassed courage and patriotism, and will be forever a significant part of the history of America.
As national president of the 9th and 10th (Horse) Cavalry Association, Trooper Willie Edley leads an organization of some 3,500 members committed to preserving the history of the Buffalo Soldiers. Their legacy will be on the spotlight during the association’s annual reunion, which coincides with the Buffalo Soldiers’ 150th anniversary.
Edley said the organization will also celebrate the move of its headquarters to Houston’s Buffalo Soldiers National Museum with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“Captain Matthews and the Houston chapter have done a great job perpetuating the history of the Buffalo Soldiers and the museum is just tremendous,” said Edley. “We looked at sites across the country, and having our national headquarters there is an ideal marriage.”
Edley a retired prison administrator in Salisbury, N.C. and a U.S. Army veteran, became interested in the Buffalo Soldiers while serving in the National Guard.
“They were American heroes and that’s a history our young people need to know,” said Edley.
“In an effort to expose more youth to the Buffalo Soldiers, the Cavalry Association conducts presentations at schools, churches, colleges and other venues. You can go to a pro football game and see a Buffalo Soldiers color guard. We have a partnership with the National Forestry Service called the Buffalo Soldiers Corps, and the Buffalo Soldiers were actually the first forest rangers.”
Edley added that Americans of all ages should know about the Buffalo Soldiers.
“We’re trying to get our kids out of the house and get them in national forests,” said Edley. “We hope some of those kids might see the forestry service as an avenue for an occupation or career. During the western expansion, if you were in a wagon train or a settler and you got in trouble with outlaws, Indians or bandoleros, the people sent to rescue you were Buffalo Soldiers. They were the peacetime African-American troops and they endured tremendous hardships in terms of being newly freed slaves and trying to prove themselves worthy.”
In his quest to spread the word, Edley hopes to expand support for the organization.
“We’re trying to develop more partnerships with corporate America and foundations so we can acquire funding to help share this history and legacy,” said Edley.
The 150th Anniversary is sure to be entertaining and informative. Events include a ceremonial ride-in on that Thursday; a session on the history of the Buffalo Soldiers on Friday; and a parade on Saturday. They are expecting over 2,000 people from all over the United States.
The Buffalo Soldiers National Museum provides fun, interactive, multi-media exhibits for its patrons. The Buffalo Soldiers National Museum actively seeks out collaborations within the arts and educational community in order to develop multi-faceted events that present the untold story of African-Americans in the military, and offers its patrons a complete look at African American military history from 1770 to 2000 (Revolutionary War to the Persian Gulf War).
The Buffalo Soldiers National Museum relies on supporters to keep its doors open. Two ways the community can help include:
Become a member. Museum membership ranges from $35 for students and seniors to $50,000 for its highest level of corporate membership. The most popular membership is $45 for individuals, which includes unlimited free museum admission for one year, discounts on gift store merchandise and museum rentals, invitations to special events and a quarterly newsletter subscription.
Buy a brick. The museum’s “Leave-A-Legacy…Buy-A-Brick” Paver Program allows donors to create a lasting memory by purchasing a one-of-a-kind engraved brick permanently displayed on the museum’s Soldiers Plaza. Bricks start at $175 and can honor a veteran, promote a business, surprise a friend, cheer an alma mater or commemorate a special date or event.
For information on getting involved with the Buffalo Soldiers Museum or participating in the 150th Anniversary Sesquicentennial Celebration, please call 713-942-8920 or visit www.buffalosoldiermuseum.com or bsr150.com.