- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2007

Searching the Internet the other day, I came across a Web site that made me want to holler across the digital divide.

I was digging to discover more information about the heroic Buffalo Soldiers when I was directed to an inane film titled “Buffalo Soldiers,” about an atypical Army unit of criminals stationed in Germany. The latter was anything but honorable.

In fact, the title is an insult to the thousands of black men who wore the moniker they were given by the Cheyenne and Comanche Indians as the badge of courage it was.

One of the site’s bloggers, however, praised the humor of the off-color 2001 movie, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Ed Harris, and wrote that he thought the film was based on a group of black soldiers who had done some bad things. (Those erroneous comments have since been removed.)

Incensed, I was compelled to correct the record. Because I kept writing in capital letters, my corrective commentary kept being thrown back at me. “Do not shout your response,” was the instruction I repeatedly received.

I persisted until I got it right.

With so much misinformation on the Web, it struck me why it is still important to continue Black History Month commemorations until this country gets it right.

All must be vigilant to weed out revisionist history.

One such group of vigilant and valiant men organized the Greater Washington, D.C., Buffalo Soldiers 9th & 10th (Horse) Cavalry Association to perpetuate the memory of their comrades who served in the U.S. military from the Civil War until the armed services were integrated after World War II.

This morning, the D.C. Buffalo Soldiers — a chapter of the national organization — will be honored in a ceremony at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Tomorrow at noon, the D.C. Buffalo Soldiers will conduct a wreath-laying at the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery on Harewood Road Northwest as a “tribute to forgotten African-American Heroes” during Black History Month.

“We want to perpetuate the involvement of the Buffalo Soldiers for those who are not exposed. … These are the forgotten few,” said Clyde Fairfax, an original member of the D.C. chapter. “We want those at Soldiers’ Home of subsequent wars to see that we are doing something to commemorate those who have gone before us.”

Mr. Fairfax, like yours truly, is also concerned that people “will associate the Buffalo Soldiers with Hollywood actors.” Along with leaders in the national chapter, they appealed to filmmakers not to make the movie or to change the name, to no avail. I added my 2 cents’ worth on the aforementioned film database Web site: “Important Correction: The Buffalo Soldiers were distinguished African American units of the U.S. Army. … The American frontier would not have developed into what it is today without the Buffalo Soldiers’ heroic service despite getting the worst assignments and equipment and suffering racial abuse from [white troops as well as] the very settlers they were charged to protect.”

Although blacks have fought in military conflicts since the American Revolution, the Buffalo Soldiers — some of them former slaves, freemen and Civil War veterans — were the first to serve during peacetime, said Keith Godwin, president of the local chapter. The regiments were sent to the Western frontier because Southern whites did not want armed blacks in their communities. Their adversaries included Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Billy the Kid and Pancho Villa.

“Their legacy is one of desire, dedication and discipline,” former Mayor Anthony A. Williams wrote in a 2003 proclamation about the Buffalo Soldiers’ service on the frontier and in the Spanish-American War, the Mexican expedition, the Cuban crisis, the Philippine insurrection, World Wars I and II and the Korean War.

Today, the nonprofit educational, patriotic and military service organization of about 80 members gives presentations to schools and organizations and awards scholarships, Mr. Fairfax said. The members do not have to have military experience or descend from Buffalo Soldiers, but many do.

Zedore Campbell, chairman of the presentation team, was preparing the period uniforms and weapons for three events, including one next week before the Prince George’s Bar Association, when we spoke.

“We’re in a lot of things,” he said of the members, who call one another “trooper.” Mr. Campbell is a historian and voracious reader who can spout names, dates, battles and events faster than Google.

For instance, he noted that three black Seminoles who served as Buffalo Soldiers received Medals of Honor. Cathay Williams, who enlisted as William Cathay, fooled her superiors for nearly two years while serving in the Texas region.

“Hopefully this shows young blacks a heritage they can be proud of,” he said.

For more information on the Buffalo Soldiers’ organization, log onto www.buffalosoldiers-washington.com or call Mr. Fairfax at 301/292-8685.


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