By Kari Hawkins, USAGE RedstoneFebruary 22, 2010
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- The Buffalo Soldier sits proudly atop his cavalry mount, holding the regimental flag and glancing off into the distance over his shoulder.
Since 2005, the bronze statue of the Soldier and his horse have been hidden from public view, being locked behind a glass case in a hallway at the Academy for Academics and Arts, located in the Cavalry Hill Community just off University Drive. Although academy students enjoyed seeing the statue as they passed it going to and from the school's cafeteria, the statue was destined for a much wider audience.
It has found that audience atop a 10-foot tall granite base on the front lawn of the school, where it now serves as a sentinel to a period of black history that is unique to Huntsville.
Once lighting is installed, passersby will be able to see the statue - known as the Buffalo Soldier Memorial Monument -- from University Drive. Once its cement base, brick walkway, benches, flagpoles and landscaping are in place, visitors will be able to enjoy an historical park dedicated to the contributions Buffalo Soldiers made in defense of the nation.
The placement of the statue atop its base in November 2009 represents a major accomplishment for the Buffalo Soldier Ad Hoc Committee, formed about five years ago when members of the local chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club of Alabama decided to make the statue and its park their first community project.
To the dismay of club members, the statue had been first in a warehouse and then at the school since it was commissioned in 2001. What the statue needed was a group to advocate for its permanent placement, and that group became the ad hoc committee.
"It was a long time coming," said Alex Harrison, the ad hoc committee's chairman and the president of the motorcycle club. "We coordinated all the logistics through the city, and the city arranged for the crane and made it happen. The City of Huntsville has been very receptive and very helpful."
The statue's placement is the first step toward the park's completion, with site preparation and placement provided as in-kind services from the City of Huntsville and the Madison County Commission. Through a Buy-A-Brick campaign, the ad hoc committee is raising funds to pay for the completion of the historical park that will surround the statue's base.
"We have done lots of things to raise the funds we need. We've had pancake breakfasts, a fund-raiser at the Huntsville Museum of Art and donations given to us from various people and businesses. Now, we are working to sell the bricks that will be placed around the statue," Harrison said.
Donors to the Buy-A-Brick campaign will have their personalized information inscribed on a brick that will be placed in a walkway around the statue's base. A 4-inch by 4-inch brick inscribed with up to three lines costs $100, an 8-inch by 8-inch brick with three lines costs $250 and an 8-inch by 8-inch corporate brick with four lines costs $500. Orders can be mailed to the Buffalo Soldier Ad Hoc Committee, P.O. Box 2292, Madison, AL 35758. All orders must be placed by Feb. 28.
"The proceeds will go toward paying for the entire project. It is an estimated $300,000 project," Harrison said. "The city has partnered with us and provided us with legal advice, engineering advice and project management advice. The city as well as the state has contributed monetarily to this project, too. The county is providing landscaping, the brick and concrete work, and the irrigation work. But we still have a need to raise funds to bring this project to completion."
The bricks and other park features will be in place in time for an April 30 unveiling ceremony, which will include an official park opening and activities for the academy's students. That evening, a Buffalo Soldiers appreciation banquet will be held at EarlyWorks Museum.
Dr. John Cashin, whose grandfather wrote a history of the Buffalo Soldiers, conceived the idea of the memorial around 1996. The statue was commissioned by the City of Huntsville in 2001 at a cost of $46,000. It was created by Mobile artist and sculptor Casey Downing. But, once it was delivered, the statue remained in a warehouse until it was moved to the academy in early 2005.
It is important to Huntsville's history and the history of all Soldiers to have the Buffalo Soldier Memorial Monument completed, Harrison said.
"This is another memorial to our American Soldiers," he said. "The Buffalo Soldiers - the 10th Cavalry - actually encamped on these grounds. It's really important that we never forget our history. The monument is dedicated to Buffalo Soldiers and all African-American servicemembers who have served with courage, dedication and honor."
After the Spanish-American War, during which Buffalo Soldiers participated in the battles of Las Guasimas, El Caney and San Juan Hill in Cuba, the 10th Cavalry was ordered to New York. Suffering from disease and battle exhaustion, they were then sent to Camp Albert G. Forse in Huntsville to spend three months in late 1898 and early 1899 recuperating. They encamped at the location where the academy - once known as Cavalry Hills School - is now located.
The statue's 10-foot-tall, 35,000-pound granite base is inscribed with the history of the Buffalo Soldiers and a listing of the Buffalo Soldiers who have received the Congressional Medal of Honor. The statue depicts 10th Cavalry Sgt. George Berry riding his horse up Cuba's San Juan Hill with the regimental flag.
There are only two other memorials dedicated to Buffalo Soldiers. One is in Junction City, Kan., and the other at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where the 19th Cavalry was formed. Huntsville's project is the only monument east of the Mississippi dedicated to Buffalo Soldiers.
Members of the Buffalo Soldier Ad Hoc Committee include Harrison, first vice chairman Sheila Anderson, second vice chairman Jeanette Alexander, secretary Glenda Fowler, treasurer Lester Byars, education consultant Sheree Humphries, researcher and historian Isaac Prentice, historians Gary Leopold and Bobby Hayden, chaplain Juan Maldonado, Patricia Ford and Eddie Glover. In addition, William Bell and Enger Taylor, of Huntsville's Facilities Project Management Office, have been instrumental in providing assistance with the project.
Harrison said that when he first got involved with the Buffalo Soldier statue project, he didn't realize how long it can take to get a project of this magnitude completed. But, standing near the statue, he said the effort was well worth it.
"The Buffalo Soldier Motorcycle Club made a commitment that we were going to see this statue put in place, one way or the other," he said. "I'm going to enjoy passing down University Drive every day and seeing the statue."