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Buffalo Soldiers event honors 150th anniversary

By JOY SEWING | Houston Chronicle (Tribune News Service) | Published: July 31, 2016

Twelve-year-old Autumn Malone inched closer to her grandfather, Eddie Williams, as they walked through the crowded Buffalo Soldier National Museum for the 150th anniversary celebration of the Buffalo Soldiers on Saturday.

They joined more than 2,500 history buffs, military enthusiasts and personnel, and people from across the nation for the celebration that began with an early morning parade. More than 150 military re-enactors dressed in traditional uniforms participated.

For Williams, who drove from Humble, it was a chance to give his granddaughter a lesson that she didn't get in history books. "I want her to learn that we contributed to the country's history in the form of military service, even before we were free," he said.

For Autumn, it was something different than chasing Pokémon.

"I learned that there's a lot of stuff that I don't know about. There's so much history in this building, and it impacted us so much," she said.

The event culminated a weeklong conference, held at the Houston Westchase Marriott hotel, to honor the Buffalo Soldiers, which were the first African-American military units in the country.

The Midtown museum was founded in 2001 by Vietnam veteran and military historian Paul Matthew. He said nearly 80 percent of the museum's artifacts, letters and memorabilia are from his personal collection.

Inside the museum, Skye Inouye and Milena Phillips, both from California, were part of a group of military enthusiasts who conducted re-enactments while dressed in 1890s attire.

"We have such a rich history that has been kept from us. We don't get it in schools, so we do this so we can keep our history alive," Phillips said.

An exhibit honoring the first African-American female soldier, Cathay Williams, was unveiled earlier last week as part of the anniversary celebration. Williams disguised herself as a man to be in the military and is the only documented female Buffalo Soldier. The exhibit is being presented by the Pantheon of Women, a local film company that is working on the movie, "Buffalo Soldier Girl," inspired by her life.

The Buffalo Soldiers were given the name by Native Americans out of respect for their fierce fighting. The term has become a generic term for all African-American soldiers.

Today, there are 40 chapters in the Buffalo Soldier organization.

National president Willie Edley praised Saturday's event and said he plans to relocate the organization's headquarters from North Carolina to the museum.

"This event represents 150 years of the greatest untold military story of our country," he said. "People talk a lot about Tuskegee Airmen, but the Buffalo Soldiers served so that others after them could stand on their shoulders. This history is not black history, it's American history."

Sylvia Collins of Flint, Mich., joined 100 family members at the event. Every year, she said, they focus on an aspect of black history for their family reunion.

"You learn a lot about history coming to something like this," she said. "Kids ask questions; the older people reminisce. It sparks intergenerational conversation. That's what we need."

(c) 2016 the Houston Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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