Museum to commemorate Buffalo Soldiers serving in World War I

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A mannequin display of a Buffalo Soldier stands proudly at the Buffalo Soldiers Museum. Photo by Andrew Fickes

The Buffalo Soldiers Museum in Tacoma, a 501 c 3 organization with a mission to educate, preserve, and present the contributions of America’s Buffalo Soldiers from 1866-1945, will present a free Veterans Day program at 6 p.m. on Nov. 10 at the Tacoma AMVETS Post 1, 5717 S. Tyler St., commemorating the 100th anniversary of America’s involvement in World War I and the brave black soldiers who served.

One Buffalo Soldier who will be spotlighted during the program is “Harlem Hellfighter” Sergeant Henry Johnson. Johnson was the first American soldier in World War I, black or white, to receive from the French the Croix de Guerre. In a battle in 1918, Johnson fought off a German raid and killed multiple Germans, while also rescuing a solider despite suffering dozens of wounds. Johnson was awarded posthumously the Purple Heart in 1996, the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002, and the Medal of Honor in 2015.

The museum features a variety of historical documents and literature conveying the story of the Buffalo Soldiers. Photo by Andrew Fickes

“We will show the (YouTube) video of Henry Johnson as a special tribute at the event,” said Jackie Jones-Hook, the executive director of the museum. “We are showing a spotlight on those black heroes and legends. It’s about recognizing black men who made significant contributions in American history. They were black men, but this is American history.”

Jones-Hook said the museum’s intent is to educate the younger generations about the early history of America and how these black men known as Buffalo Soldiers – a name given to them by Native Americans who thought their dark, curly hair resembled a buffalo’s coat – helped to rebuild the U.S. following the Civil War by order of Congress in 1866 and protected and patrolled the desolate Western frontier.

“(Buffalo Soldiers) had a great love of liberty for America, and they did it with dignity, despite the fact that they were not always treated right,” Jones-Hook said.

The program will start with the Color Guard. Lourdes “Alfie” Alvarado-Ramos, director of the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, will follow with a presentation honoring all U.S. veterans and active duty soldiers, including Buffalo Soldiers.

Also presenting will be Amanda Schramm, a representative of the National Park Service. Schramm will provide a general overview of the Buffalo Soldiers’ involvement as the United States’ first park rangers. Before the National Park Service was established in 1916, the country’s national parks were patrolled and stewarded by black U.S. Army cavalry troops.

On Dec. 19, 2014, Congress directed the National Park Service to begin the Buffalo Soldiers study. The goal of this study was to establish alternatives in commemorating and interpreting the history of Buffalo Soldiers in the early years of the National Park System.

“I’ll be talking about the outreach process and the status of where the study is now,” Schramm said.

The Buffalo Soldiers Museum at 1940 S. Wilkeson St. in Tacoma is one of only two museums in the U.S. dedicated to these men. The museum was founded by Jones-Hook’s father, William Jones, in 2005. Jones served as a Buffalo Soldier in the all-black 9th and 10th Cavalry during World War II and was a prisoner in the Korean War. Jones added to the museum his own personal collection of artifacts and literature that told the black soldiers’ story. He passed away in 2009 at age 91.

“He was truly an American patriot,” said Jones-Hook about her father. “He loved the military, and he loved America. That is something we want for our children.”

The museum was registered as a 501 c 3 in 2011. It is actively seeking social justice grants, equality grants, and education grants to help with the day-to-day operation costs. The museum is volunteer run but is hopeful to hire a paid staffer in order to expand the hours the museum is open to the public.

At the end of the veterans program the museum will welcome donations and contributions from the public to help support its educational programs and outreach. The museum currently is running a public schools curriculum pilot program and is seeking partnership with various public schools.

“We’re stressing to students that they are the future history makers,” Jones-Hook said. “We want to give them the tools to help them graduate.”

For more information on the Buffalo Soldiers Museum, visit buffalosoldierstacoma.org.

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