September 1, 2008
THE BUFFALO SOLDIERS
African Americans, by law, were not permitted to serve in the Regular U.S. Peacetime Army until 28 July 1866. Congress then authorized the formation of six black regiments–four infantry and two cavalry. Prior to that time, they were permitted to serve only in the state militias.
Operating under the harshest conditions and with the worst horses and equipment in the military, the Buffalo Soldiers had the lowest desertion rate of any unit in the U.S. Army and at least 20 men earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. In addition, they received four campaign citations in the Indian Wars; campaign citations for action in the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection and the Mexican Expedition; the French Campaign World War I Citation; five unit citations from World War II; 10 unit citations from the Korean Conflict; three Presidential Unit Citations; a Navy Unit Commendation; a Philippine Presidential Citation; and two Republic of Korea Presidential citations.
Reference: Military Review August 1990
“. . . since 1641 there has never been a time in this country when Blacks were unwilling to serve and sacrifice for America.”
General Colin Powell, Buffalo Soldier Monument Ground-breaking ceremony, July 28, 1990.
Despite a record of uninterrupted courage, valor, patriotism and bravery, historians and this country had never fully recognized or acknowledged the honorable and selfless military service of African Americans. Dedication of the Buffalo Soldier Monument at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas on July 25, 1992, was a major step in changing this. However, as popular as the monument is, it does not mean the same thing to everyone. Most people think it is great, but a few do not think it is deserved.
To the remaining Buffalo Soldiers and their families, it is a symbol of immediate recognition and gratitude for a job well done, as well as a daily source of pride, satisfaction and inspiration. To the older Buffalo Soldiers like 110 year old Jones Morgan of Richmond, Virginia and 98 year old Sergeant William Harrington of Salina, Kansas, it gave them their flowers to smell while they were alive. To all, it is a beauty to see. Trooper Elmer Robinson of Leavenworth, Kansas said it best one cold February night in 1989 as we looked over the vacant spot where the monument would be erected, “after all these years I didn’t think anyone cared, now I feel like a hero.”
To General Colin Powell, the originator of the idea for the monument, it is the realization of a modest ten year dream. The idea came to him one day in 1981 as he was jogging around Fort Leavenworth, During the jog he noticed there was little to show the Buffalo Soldiers had been there. The 10th Cavalry was formed and activated at Fort Leavenworth in 1867, and some contingent of the Buffalo Soldiers was always there through WWII. However, only their graves and two alleys next to the cemetery (9th and 10th Cavalry roads) bore their names. The General felt there should be more.
To the sculptor, Mr. Eddie Dixon, the monument is a source of inspiration for future generations. He knew that history denied to one group is history denied to all groups. He also wanted young people, especially Black youth, to understand that all Black heroes are not athletes and musicians. Both Jackie Robinson and Joe Louis served in Black units at Fort Riley, Kansas.
To the committee members and the thousands of people who helped build the monument, it means several things. First it is a symbol to stimulate and enhance public interest and awareness. Both young and old need to know they were the best in spite of having the worst. With hand me down horses, clothing and equipment they earned more Congressional Medals of Honor (20) and had the lowest desertion rate of any unit in the army. Against prejudice in and out of the military, they were the essence of excellence!
Second and most important, it is a symbol to motivate and encourage historians, authors, publishers, movie makers and teachers to include the exploits of the Buffalo Soldiers in books, movies and lesson plans. When historians write about Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders in the Spanish American War, they must write that the Buffalo Soldiers rescued the future president in the Battle of Kettle Hill and were the first to reach the top of San Juan Hill.
The next time movies are made about the great Apache Chiefs Geronimo and Victorio, the Buffalo Soldiers must not be omitted. And when television series like Little Indiana Jones portray Mexico during the days of Pancho Villa, the prominent role of the Buffalo Soldiers and Lieutenant Colonel Charles Young (the third black graduate of West Point) must be represented.
In their lesson plans about western expansion, teachers should include how the Buffalo Soldiers delivered the mail and protected the wagon trains, cattle drives, stage coaches, railroads, and settlers. Additionally they should note that the trails and roads surveyed and blazed by the Buffalo Soldiers were just as critical as those by Lewis and Clark. Next March, during Women’s History Month, classroom bulletin boards should mention the only known female Buffalo Soldier, Cathy Williams. She served in the infantry under the name of William Cathy from 1866-1868.
For the small group of African Americans who say the Buffalo Soldiers are not deserving of recognition, the monument should be a source of healthy debate. Their opinion is that the fame of these Black knights of courage is a result on one minority (Blacks) killing another minority (Native Americans). To this group, I say the Buffalo Soldiers are not great because they killed Indians. They are great and deserving of recognition because they changed the face of the military forever.
They were the first African Americans to serve in the military during peace-time. On July 28, 1866, nearly sixteen months after the Civil War, the 39the Congress approved the formation of six Black regiments: the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 38th, 39th 40th and 41st Infantry. In 1869 the military down sized and the four infantry units were combine into two, the 24th and 25th. In about 1867 the Indians gave them the name Buffalo Soldiers.
There are various views of how the name originated. One, the Black man’s hair resembled the mane of the buffalo. Two, like the buffalo, when wounded or cornered, the Black soldiers fought ferociously and courageously. Three, they wore buffalo hide to keep warm; and finally, like stampeding buffalos, the Black soldiers charged into battle with their sabers forward and their heads down. However, regardless of the origin, they wore the name proudly and as a badge of honor.
Because the Buffalo Soldiers were first and very successful at what they did, other firsts followed. These included: General Colin Powell, the first Black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Tuskegee Airmen, the first Black aviation unit; the 761st, the first Black tank battalion; the 555th (Triple Nickel), the first Black Parachute unit; and the Golden Thirteen, the first Black Navy Officers. As General Powell so often states, “. . . they are the wind beneath my wings.” When these true American heroes find their proper place in the history books, they will be the wind beneath the wings of many generations to come.
Reference: The Legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers, by Colonel Rick Swain, USA (Ret.), Buffalo Soldier Monument Dedication Souvenir Book. For copies write the Buffalo Soldier Educational and Historical Committee at P.O. Box 3372, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas 33027. Cost $20.00 (includes taxes, s/h).
August 21, 2008
Brown Chapel Black Church Built by African American People in Arrow Rock
The early settlers in Arrow Rock were southerns who brought their slaves with them when they moved to Arrow Rock. Following emancipation the first public building to serve the African-American population was the Brown’s Chapel Free Will Baptist Church, possibly as early as 1869, but signed 1871. The church also served as the first school for the newly emancipated population with 65 students in attendance. The church was originally located on the north edge of town but was moved in 1884 to its current location. The church is now owned and maintained by the Friends of Arrow Rock. Brown’s Chapel was rededicated September 20, 1998, with 125 people in attendance at the Homecoming Celebration. In honor of Arrow Rock’s African-American heritage Homecoming and Juneteenth events are conducted at the church each year.
Brown’s Chapel and the Black Lodge are the two newest properties of the Friends of Arrow Rock, gifts to us in 1996 from Ted and Virginia Fisher. These are two of the last three public buildings that remain of a once vital African-American Community in Arrow Rock. (The third building is the former school, now a private residence.) Arrow Rock was predominately settled by southern immigrants who brought with them their slaves. Following emancipation, the first community building to be erected was a church probably as early as 1869. We believe this first church building also served as the first black school with 65 students.
Originally built just north of the town limits, Brown’s Chapel Free Will Baptist Church was moved to its present location in 1883 by Zack Bush. Oral tradition tells us they moved it with a team of mules. In the 1920s Brown’s Chapel hosted the annual Association meeting with up to 300 people attending the week long meeting.
Brown’s Chapel was rededicated September 20, 1998, with 125 people in attendance at the Homecoming Celebration. In honor of Arrow Rock’s African-American heritage Homecoming and Juneteenth events will continue; contact the Friends of Arrow Rock Office, 660-837-3231, for the current schedule.
July 14, 2008
The Blue Room captures the spirit of Kansas City. Jazz is apart of Kansas City’s history. But places like the Blue Room help you experience the history and make history at the same time. The Blue Room is apart of the American Jazz Museum and located on 18th and Vine.
Although I have lived in Missouri and Kansas most of my life, it wasn’t until moving to Kansas City that I just saw how deep jazz runs through the veins of Kansas City and her citizens. Jazz is the blood of Kansas City. I know this because I was attended the annual Black Chamber of Commerce ball held in the Fall of 2006. The Who’s Who of Black Kansas City was there. I sat in awe at the hundreds of Black and successful business people. They didn’t even know how special they were, to me, a child of smaller communities who had never seen a Black judge, Black lawyer, Black gas station owner, Black Marketing firm owner, Black newspaper publisher, etc.
A jazz song played while we were waiting for everyone to be seated. And everyone’s heads started bobbing and I saw the beautiful women and their men wearing tuxes. Mentally, it took me back to a time when it was not uncommon for black men and black women to dress this way and attend such events. I knew right then I was reliving history and I was apart of history at the same time.
I soon visited the Blue Room for a night out. I went alone heading down to 18th and Vine. I parked nearby on a side street and walked towards the Blue Room. Speakers are outside, so you can hear the piano playing as you approach. In fact, you could mosey on down the street and window peak into the businesses and still hear the sultry jazz music.
But I went in and was surprised by the atmosphere. Classy men and women, black, white, asian, hispanic sat inside. They looked, I nodded and took my seat at the bar. This is my kind of place. Non somking and relaxing. You can’t go wrong with the Blue Room.
The Blue Room is located at 1600 E. 18th Street, Kansas City, MO. Phone number: 816.474.2929.
Part of the AMerican Jazz Museum by day, the Blue Room transforms into a working jazz club at night. Top local and national musicians take the stage four nights a week in this nonsmoking venue.
July 13, 2008
Spirit of Freedom Fountain
Cleveland Avenue and Brush Creek Boulevard
Date Erected: 1981
Description: In 1977, City Councilman Bruce R. Watkins organized the Spirit of Freedom Fountain to develop a monument to the contributions of the black people in Kansas City. Richard Hunt, a black Chicago Sculptor, presented an abstract model to reflect the symbolic nature of the subject. He also noted that it was in keeping with the improvisational aspects of Kansas City Jazz. The fountain was dedicated in 1981 exactly one year after Watkins’ death.
July 13, 2008
The mission of Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center is to commemorate and interpret the African-American diaspora particularly in the State of Missouri, the City of Kansas City, Mo., and its surrounding areas through fostering educational and cultural programs regarding the past, present and contemporary contributions of African Americans who served to shape the city and state’s history and culture. A major component of contemporary and future interests involves the conscientious development of the state environmental policies.
The center is open to visitors of all ages. The first level includes the Bruce R. Watkins permanent exhibit space, children’s workspace, resource library, auditorium, small gallery and glassed encased exhibit area for small pieces and artifacts. The second level consists of business offices, the main gallery and a temperature-controlled exhibit preparation area.
The Center is named in honor of Bruce R. Watkins, a political and social activist. Watkins was fueled by the need to recognize and preserve the varied contributions African-Americans made to the development of Kansas City. The center opened in December 1989 as the outgrowth of Watkins’ efforts. Construction of the Center was made possible through the work and contributions of the Bruce R. Watkins Fountain Inc., the Kansas City, Mo., Parks and Recreation Department, and the State of Missouri.
African American Exhibits Include: (exhibits are subject to change. Please call the center for the current schedule)
In the auditorium:
The Spirit of Freedom Foundation collection, “Jazz Greats,” a series of pastel and charcoal portraits of African American jazz musicians, is on loan from the Spirit of Freedom Foundation and sponsored by the Friends of Bruce R. Watkins.
The Gertrude Keith Resource Library:
“The Life and Times of York”
Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
York, a slave who accompanied explorers Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition, was the first black man to venture into the wilderness of the Louisiana Purchase. The exhibit chronicles his life and examines the conditions and environment of slavery in the early to mid-1800s. Opened in the spring of 2004, the exhibit will run indefinitely, and was established with the support of state, county and municipal governments.
The legacy of Bruce R. Watkins continues in the Cultural Heritage Center named after his honor. Located in a busy area of Kansas City off of Paseo Blvd, the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center serves as an icon of Kansas City’s rich Black past and the wonderful contributions of its African American citizens.
Bruce R. Watkins
Cultural Heritage Center and Museum
3700 Blue Parkway
Kansas City, MO 64130
February 10, 2008
She writes what many do not know or do not talk about: Missouri was not a “neutral” state but was a slave state. And the highest concentration of African American/Native American slaves were located in the Missouri River counties such as Buchanan, Jackson, Lafayette, Saline, Callaway, Chariton, Cooper, Howard, Boone, Pike, Marion, St. Louis and many other counties of Missouri. For more information, you may visit her site at: