Buffalo Soldiers Commemorations

Buffalo Soldiers Commemorations

Date Observed: July 28
Locations: Communities nationwide

In 1992 the U.S. Congress designated July 28 as Buffalo Soldiers Day to commemorate the date in 1866 when Congress created six regular Army regiments composed of African-American enlisted soldiers. These segregated units, who adopted the name Buffalo Soldiers, were sent to fight Native Americans in the military campaigns of the Southwest. Even though July 28 became a national day to remember these soldiers, various U.S. states and communities have honored the soldiers on other days.

Historical Background

African Americans have served in all of America's wars, including the Civil War, when they were assigned to the U.S. Colored Troops. After the end of the war, in 1866, the U.S. Army formed the first regular African-American regiments. These were the 9th and 10th Cavalry, and the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st Infantry. In 1869 the four infantry regiments combined to form the 24th and 25th Infantry. These regiments fought alongside the cavalry and became known collectively as Buffalo Soldiers.

No one is certain how the name originated. Some historians say tribal warriors nicknamed the regiments Buffalo Soldiers because they fought as fiercely as the buffalo, and African Americans considered the name an honorary title. But, during the 1990s, some Native Americans voiced their disagreement. Members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) declared that Plains Indians used the term Buffalo Soldier disparagingly to indicate the soldiers with dark skin who helped kill their people. In 1994 AIM protested when the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp honoring Buffalo Soldiers, and they demonstrated at museums and other exhibits on Buffalo Soldier history.

The original Buffalo Soldiers were stationed mainly in Kansas, Texas, and New Mexico, where they had to face the prejudice of many white settlers and army officials. They were given old horses, inadequate rations and ammunition, and faulty equipment. Nevertheless, they fought against Native Americans in what has been called "The Plains War" or "The Indian Campaigns" on a western frontier that extended from Montana and the Dakotas to Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Buffalo Soldiers also participated in armed conflicts against Mexican revolutionaries, outlaws, and cattle rustlers. They protected stagecoaches and crews building railroads and helped string telegraph lines, build outposts on the frontier, and map areas of the Southwest.

For their bravery and heroism, 18 Buffalo Soldiers received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation's highest honor, over a 20-year period. On July 9, 1870, First Sergeant Emanuel Stance became the first African American in the post-Civil War period to receive this award for his valor in the Battle of Kickapoo Springs, Texas.

Buffalo Soldiers took part in combat during the Spanish-American War in Cuba in 1898. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, no cavalry units served, but the Buffalo Soldier tradition of heroic service continued with the 92nd Infantry, another African-American regiment. In 1941, the 9th and 10th Cavalry became the 4th Calvary Brigade, led by General Benjamin O. Davis, the first African-American general in the regular army. Horse cavalry units disbanded in 1944, and members transferred to other units of the armed forces; some served in World War II.

Creation of the Observance

In early 1992, the U.S. Congress designated July 28 as Buffalo Soldiers Day. On July 25, 1992, General Colin Powell, a black four-star army general, dedicated a statue of a mounted Buffalo Soldier at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on a site where Buffalo Soldiers camped during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At the dedication Powell said he considered himself "the descendent of those Buffalo Soldiers … and all the black men and women who have served the nation in uniform." In the audience were African-American veterans of the segregated army and reenactors in the uniforms of Buffalo Soldiers.

The congressional designation and the commemoration in Kansas were widely publicized, prompting numerous events in the following years. Some states set aside their own days to honor Buffalo Soldiers. In 1998 the Maryland General Assembly signed a citation marking February 20 of each year as Buffalo Soldiers Day. Other states and localities conduct ceremonies on Memorial Day.

Observances

The events that honor Buffalo Soldiers vary by location, but nearly all include a recitation of the combined mythology and history of the African-American 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry. Honorary observances include special museum displays, documentaries, and performances by reenactment societies.

One group of horseback riders in Michigan formed a horseback riding club in 1992 in honor of the Buffalo Soldiers. They named their group the Washtenaw County Buffalo Soldiers, 10th Cavalry, and they participate in local parades, rodeos, and educational presentations.

Another group is the National Association of Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Clubs, which is headquartered in Chicago and has chapters across the United States. Comprised of African-American men and women, the club members participate in numerous rides on "iron horses" to promote the history of the African-American regiments. On one ride in 2004, the association staged a ride to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to honor the history of the troopers of the 9th and 10th Cavalry.

Contacts and Web Sites

Buffalo Soldier Educational and Historical Committee P.O. Box 3372 Fort Leavenworth, KS 33027 Buffalo Soldier Monument Fort Leavenworth, KS 33027

Buffalo Soldiers National Museum 1834 Southmore Houston, TX 77004 713-942-8920; fax: 713-942-8912

"The Buffalo Soldiers on the Western Frontier," online exhibit at the International Museum of the Horse Kentucky Horse Park 4089 Iron Works Parkway Lexington, KY 40511 859-233-4303 or 800-678-8813; fax: 859-254-0253

Captain Buffalo, web site of author Frank Schubert, offers presentations on the Buffalo Soldiers

National Association of Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Clubs

Further Reading

Bellecourt, Vernon. "The Glorification of Buffalo Soldiers Raises Racial Divisions between Blacks, Indians." Indian Country Today, May 4, 1994. Billington, Monroe Lee. New Mexico's Buffalo Soldiers, 1866-1900. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 1991. Butler, Ron. "The Buffalo Soldier, A Shining Light in the Military History of the American West." Arizona Highways, March 1972. Leckie, William H. The Buffalo Soldiers: A Narrative of the Negro Cavalry in the West. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967. Lehman, Jeffrey, ed. The African American Almanac. 9th ed. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Schubert, Irene, and Frank Schubert. On the Trail of the Buffalo Soldier 2: New and Revised Biographies of African Americans in the U.S. Army, 1866-1917 . Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2004.

Buffalo Soldiers Commemorations

July 28 and other dates
In 1992 the U.S. Congress passed a law designating July 28 as Buffalo Soldiers Day in the United States. This day commemorates the formation on that date in 1866 of the first regular Army regiments comprising African-American soldiers.
African-American soldiers fought for the Union during the Civil War. But it was not until after the war that permanent all-black regiments were established, maintaining the U.S. armed forces policy of segregation. The African-American regiments were deployed in the southwest and in the plains states to serve U.S. interests against Native American tribes, to protect important shipments, and to construct roads and trails. A longstanding debate ranges around the origin of the term "Buffalo Soldier," with some maintaining that the nickname reflected the toughness of the soldiers and others claiming that it was a disparaging racial term used by Native Americans to describe the dark-skinned soldiers they met in battle. The segregated regiments served in the Spanish-American War, World War II, and other conflicts, before being disbanded during the 1940s and 1950s as the U.S. armed forces embraced integration.
Since 1992, Buffalo Soldier Commemorations have been held throughout the country and typically include reenactments, museum displays, educational forums, prayer services, and dedication or groundbreaking ceremonies for sculptural or other permanent memorials. A monument to the Buffalo Soldiers was dedicated at Fort Leavenworth, Kans., on the first Buffalo Soldiers Day in 1992 by General Colin Powell, who had originated the idea of a memorial to the black soldiers when he was stationed at the fort. Ceremonies and reenactments honoring the Buffalo Soldiers are not limited to July 28, however. Communities throughout the United States present special programs designed to educate audiences about the history of the Buffalo Soldiers throughout the year, particularly during Black History Month in February and on such patriotic holidays as Memorial Day and Veterans Day, with displays of memorabilia and speeches recounting the accomplishments of the troops.
CONTACTS:
Buffalo Soldier Educational and Historical Committee
P.O. Box 3372
Fort Leavenworth, KS 33207
garrison.leavenworth.army.mil/sites/about/Buffalo.asp
Buffalo Soldiers National Museum
1834 Southmore
Houston, TX 77004
713-942-8920; fax: 713-942-8912
www.buffalosoldiermuseum.com
SOURCES:
AAH-2007, p. 89
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