Group shares history of Buffalo Soldiers with Stoddert students
African-American military units helped drive westward expansion
The role of African-Ameri- can military units in the post Civil War westward expan- sion is a history that doesn’t get enough attention, said Hardrick Crawford.
As a member of the Na- tional 9th and 10th Caval- ry Association, Greater Washington, D.C., Chap- ter, a nonprofit organiza- tion that helps perpetuate the memory of the history and accomplishments of “Buffalo Soldiers,” seg- regated units of African American soldiers, Craw- ford works to share that history.
Crawford and his fellow association members Paul Lancaster and Lynn Hill, dressed in the uniforms of the 9th and 10th Horse Cavalry, spoke to students at Benjamin Stoddert Mid- dle School last week.
“We spend a lot of time in schools, we spend a lot of time in black churches,” Crawford said. “We tell them the history of those black soldiers, those heroes, and also their white officers.”
After the Civil War, the U.S. government wished to send military units west to support the westward expansion, as part of the philosophy of “Manifest Destiny” — the belief that America was destined as a nation to stretch from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pa- cific Ocean.
“What it really meant was the white man was taking land away from the Native Americans,” Craw- ford said.
Although African Amer- ican military units were formed during the Civil War, they were disbanded afterwards, and the former Confederate states balked at the creation of new units comprised of former slaves, Crawford said. A compromise agreement was reached whereby the African American units would never serve east of the Mississippi River.
“Down south, where Jim Crow was starting, and the Ku Klux Klan was starting, they did not want a bunch of armed black men, so they made them go out west,” Crawford said.
Accounts differ as to how the soldiers acquired the name “Buffalo Soldiers,” a moniker given to them by their Native American foes.
“Some said it was be- cause they fought fiercely, even when surrounded. Others say it was because their skin was dark like the buffalo; their hair was curly, like the buffalo,” Crawford said. “Regardless, we know that it was praise, it was not derogatory.”
There were no African American officers in the U.S. Army at that time, and so the 9th and 10th Cavalry units were com- manded by white officers.
“White officers who fin- ished last in their class got assigned to the Buffalo Soldiers,” Crawford said.
Despite the segregation of the time, Crawford said many African Americans wanted to join the Buffalo Soldiers.
“They were former slaves. They were treated like crap, but they joined the Army. Why did they do that? Because they got respect,” Crawford said.
Crawford, Lancaster and Hill introduced Stoddert students to the equipment of the early Buffalo Sol- diers: sabers, gauntlets, greatcoats, rifles, pistols and hardtack, a hard bis- cuit comprised of flour, salt and water.
Although they originated in the “Indian Wars” of the late 1800s, segregated units of African Americans continued to be called “Buffalo Soldiers” until the Korean War, when the last segregated units were integrated.
Despite their long and distinguished history, Crawford said most people don’t know about the Buffalo Soldiers, and their battles in the late 1800s are rarely discussed.
“I think the reason is America is really ashamed of what we did in the Indian Wars, and so we don’t talk about it,” Crawford said.
Hardrick Crawford of the Greater Washington D.C. Chapter of the 9th and 10th (Horse) Cavalry Association shows a replica of a pistol used by “Buffalo Soldiers” in the late 1800s to students at Benjamin Stoddert Middle School.
Hardrick Crawford of the Greater Washington D.C. Chapter of the 9th and 10th (Horse) Cavalry Association shows re-creation pictures of “Buffalo Soldiers,” African American units that helped drive westward expansion in the late 19th Century, to Benjamin Stoddert Middle School students. STAFF PHOTOS BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU
Lynn Hill, Paul Lancaster and Hardrick Crawford of the Greater Washington D.C. Chapter of the 9th and 10th (Horse) Cavalry Association show replica gauntlets worn by Buffalo Soldiers in the late 1800s in a presentation to Benjamin Stoddert Middle School students Feb. 28.