As military museum expands, so, too, does its place in history
Buffalo Soldiers ‘get visitors from all over the world’
It wasn’t so long ago that the founding members of the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum wondered how they would take a dilapidated building in Midtown and make it into something worth visiting.
“It was a mess,” said Samuel Davis, one of the original board members recalls thinking before the facility’s 2001 opening. “It’s going to take too much for us to get this thing going.” But on Veterans Day, the U.S. Army veteran, along with city representatives, hordes of guests and other veterans, gathered on Caroline Street to celebrate the opening of the building’s third floor, the latest expansion of the museum that pays homage to African-American soldiers who served from the Revolutionary War to the present.
“We get visitors from around the world,” said Capt. Paul Matthews, the original founder. “They say ‘We came to Houston to visit this museum.’ ”
Matthews, a Vietnam War veteran, started the museum in 2001 to honor Buffalo Soldiers, a nickname given to the first African-American military units, but now has become a term used for all African-American soldiers.
Buffalo Soldiers continued to serve in other wars, including the Spanish American War, the Philippine Insurrection, the Mexican Expedition, World War I, World War II and the Korean War.
It originally started inside a 3,500 -square-foot-building on Southmore Boulevard but was moved in 2012 to a 23,000-square-----
foot building on Caroline Street so that more historical artifacts could be preserved. Now the building has three floors to host weddings and other significant events.
Matthews said the museum also holds the largest collection of African-American military memorabilia in the world, with visitors coming from as far as Europe. ‘A lot of history’
On Saturday, guests milled around the first floor looking at exhibits that illustrated African-Americans’ contributions to major wars fought across decades of history.
A video detailing the first African-American female soldier to enlist, Cathay Williams, was displayed on a small screen. During the ceremony, the “Buffalo Soldiers” song was performed and other city representatives spoke about the museum’s contributions to the city.
Mayor Sylvester Turner, who gave $500,000 to the museum as a state representative, was also on hand to mark the museum’s expansion.
“There’s a lot of history to be told,” Turner said. “You can’t tell the history if you don’t preserve it. This museum is all about preserving and being able to tell and showcase that history.”
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, recognized all the veterans who attended.
“I’m so proud that you put on the uniform as a defender of freedom, justice and this little book called the Constitution,” she said. Educating others
Matthews announced during the celebration that he’s exiting as the director and will hand over all responsibilities to his grandson, Desmond BertrandPitts. He said he continues to find joy in educating others on African-American soldiers’ contribution to war history. Many of the
“There’s a lot of history to be told. You can’t tell the history if you don’t preserve it. This museum is all about preserving and being able to tell and showcase that history.” Mayor Sylvester Turner
museum’s memorabilia comes from Matthews’ own personal collection.
“Every morning when I rise, I thank the Lord for giving me the opportunity to collect all these artifacts, documents and memorabilia to be able to show it to the world,” he said.
Buffalo Soldiers salute during Saturday’s ceremonies recognizing the opening of the third-floor expansion of the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum on Veterans Day.