As mil­i­tary mu­seum ex­pands, so, too, does its place in history

Buf­falo Sol­diers ‘get vis­i­tors from all over the world’

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - CITY | STATE - By Brooke A. Lewis

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.

Melissa Phillip / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

Buf­falo Sol­diers salute dur­ing Satur­day’s cer­e­monies rec­og­niz­ing the open­ing of the third-floor ex­pan­sion of the Buf­falo Sol­diers Na­tional Mu­seum on Veterans Day.

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