More than just a song title by the infamous Bob Marley, buffalo soldiers are commemorated on July 28 for their service. Buffalo soldiers were African American soldiers in the 19th century who served mainly on the Western frontier of the American Civil War. After Congress passed the Army Organization Act in 1866, six all-black cavalry and infantry regiments helped to control the Native Americans of the Plains, protect settlers, stagecoaches, wagon trains and railroad crews along the Western front and capture thieves and cattle rustlers.
According to Aquisha Powell, the vet resource coordinator for the Veterans Resource Center, “Buffalo soldiers were looked down upon due to their skin color. However, they became known for their courage and willingness to succeed… Their service broke down barriers for the Black community. Some [buffalo soldiers] were born into slavery, but made a life for themselves and their families. Their honorable service opened the door of opportunity for generations of People of Color to serve after them. If buffalo soldiers did not exist, I would not be here.”
Interestingly, the origin of the ‘buffalo soldier’ name is unknown. However, what is known is that the buffalo soldiers received their nickname from the Native Americans they encountered. According to the History media company, one theory for their nickname came from the valiant and fierce way in which the soldiers fought, making Native Americans respect the soldiers as they do buffalo.
“The most interesting and widely believed speculation is that the Native Americans saw a similarity between the hair of the Black soldiers and that of the buffalo. Sometimes, the buffalo soldiers would wear buffalo hides in the winter to stave off the cold weather. This added to the lore,” said Powell.
Buffalo soldiers also fought to protect the national parks, like Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. These men not only fought in the American Civil War, but also in the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II.
“Buffalo soldiers paved the way for Black Americans to serve in the military. [They] served their country during a time where racism was blatant. Racism was in your face and there were no camera phones to capture it… The experience of a war veteran is familiar, yet unique, to each veteran. I can sit in a room [with] other veterans and feel their story. I know what they went through. However, as a black woman, I have my own story. I would like to encourage my fellow Sharks to visit the Military Honors Building at the Seminole Tribe [and] to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture online. Knowledge is power, and history goes far beyond Black and White,” said Powell.