SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, III. – Buffalo Soldiers Day is July 28, commemorating the formation of the first Army regiments comprised of African American Soldiers.
In 1866, Congress passed the Army Organization Act, allowing former slaves to serve during the Civil War. Over 180,000 African American men made up six regiments and fought for the Union. Despite the current conflict they faced, they served their country with pride and distinction. Thus in 1992, Congress passed a law designating July 28 as Buffalo Soldiers Day.
“The Buffalo Soldiers adjusted the way America and the U.S. military viewed race,” said Sgt. Maj. Quincy Rice, Military Surface Deployment Distribution Command’s directorate of operations sergeant major. “They proved to be courageous and well-disciplined Soldiers, which was further represented by the stellar example and phenomenal leadership of Colonel Charles Young.”
Young, only the third African American graduate of the United States Military Academy, led the Buffalo Soldiers with distinction in the Ninth and Tenth U.S. Cavalry and was the first African American to achieve the rank of colonel in the U.S. Army.
The regiments played a major role in developing the western part of the nation. They traversed the frontier monitoring Native American populations, building roads, and protecting settlers, all while contending with challenging terrain, inadequate supplies and discrimination.
“The pain and disrespect the Buffalo Soldiers and all Soldiers of color faced years ago in the Army paved the way for Soldiers today to blossom into leaders that were never seen before,” said Rice. “It is amazing how morale and motivation escalates when team members are treated equally and given the same opportunities for progression. Collectively, it leads to a stronger force of Soldiers and a better Army.”
During an Indian Wars battle in 1867, Native American Cheyenne warriors gave these Soldiers the nickname Buffalo Soldiers because of their features and said they fought like fierce and brave buffalo. Since the tribe held buffalo in high regard, the members proudly adapted the name Buffalo Soldiers as a badge of honor.
The regiments would go on to fight alongside Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, serve four tours in the Philippines and battle Pancho Villa during the Mexican Punitive Expedition. Though the Buffalo Soldier regiments didn’t participate with the American Expeditionary Forces when the United States entered World War I, many combat experienced NCOs and troops joined other segregated units.
“The hard work of the Buffalo Soldiers laid down a stable foundation for minority Soldiers to manage their aspirations of greatness with full confidence and ingenuity to serve at the highest levels of the U.S. military,” said Rice.
“The Buffalo Soldiers’ story is inspiring because the Soldiers were in the precarious position of being largely uneducated and untrained, however, they accomplished a variety of critical tasks over the course of nearly 100 years,” said Gerome Banks, secretary of SDDC’s Diversity and Inclusion Council. “Their regiments had low desertion and court martial rates and many of the Soldiers earned the Medal of Honor.”
In 1948, President Harry Truman issued an executive order eliminating racial segregation in the armed forces and the last African American units were disbanded during the 1950s. By the end of integration, Buffalo Soldiers had earned Medals of Honor, as well as numerous campaign and unit citations. From their ranks emerged leaders including Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., Charles Young, and Henry Flipper, the first African American to graduate from West Point.
The Buffalo Soldiers’ achievements in the face of adversity changed military philosophy and laid a foundation for minorities to work toward their own American dream.
In July 1992, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell dedicated the National Buffalo Soldier Monument at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to honor the exceptional legacy of these great Soldiers.