Tony Washington of the Lawton-Ft. Sill Chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers spoke at NOC Enid on Monday as part of Black History Month.
The Buffalo Soldiers were an African American Military Unit created in 1866 after the Emancipation Proclamation.
The Buffalo Soldiers name came from Native Americans who named the group after seeing them in battle comparing them to buffalo.
Washington said the Buffalo Soldiers were created from freed slaves and freemen who had fought for the Union in the Civil War.
“They were offered $13 per month, shelter, education, and a pension to join,” Washington said.
According to Washington, the original duties of the Buffalo Soldiers was to escort settlers and then to build outposts in the west but later were used in military actions including the Spanish-American War and in Mexico and Cuba as well.
In fact, Washington said the unit was at San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.
“Roosevelt got all the credit for San Juan Hill,” Washington said. “But it was the Buffalo Soldiers who were right there with him during that battle.”
Washington described a number of individuals who served in the unit over the years, as a group, Buffalo Soldiers received 23 Congressional Medals of Honor including Emanuel Stance who was the first African American to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.
He added that Buffalo Soldiers were the first forest or park rangers led by West Point Graduate Col. George Young. The hat created for the unit is the “Smokey Bear” hat still in use today.
The Buffalo Soldiers were deactivated in 1951 and the participants integrated into the United States Military.
Washington did discuss the treatment of the Buffalo Soldiers during their service.
“They were often given the most dangerous assignments, given the worst equipment, and the poorest rations,” he said. “But they continued to serve. They wanted to the opportunity to serve their country, live as freemen and have an opportunity at the American dream as first class citizens.”
Washington joked that he is not a historian, just someone that has studied the history of the unit.
“We typically go to schools and talk to elementary and high school students about the Buffalo Soldiers but we are excited to share the story at Northern Oklahoma College,” he said.
Washington is the president of the Lawton-Ft. Sill chapter, the only Oklahoma chapter.
The Black History Month presentation was sponsored by the Diversity Committee at Northern Oklahoma College, chaired by NOC Enid instructor Mary Ann McCoy.