Buffalo Soldiers honored at Las Vegas senior center

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The Doolittle Senior Center in the Historic Westside community was packed wall-to-wall with history buffs of all ages Saturday to celebrate Nevada’s first Buffalo Soldiers Day a day early.

Motorcycle jackets, spur boots, Civil War memorabilia, and Buffalo Soldiers from three different organizations in the state came to celebrate the holiday, declared officially by Gov. Steve Sisolak as July 28, 2019.

“These soldiers were nicknamed Buffalo Soldiers by the Native Americans against whom they fought because of their reputation, toughness, and bravery in battle, and the buffalo coats they wore in the winter,” said Fred Wagar, deputy director for the Nevada Department of Veteran Services.

Wagar read the governor’s proclamation while residents and soldiers ate lunch and perused Civil War memorabilia.

Buffalo Soldiers also were some of the first park rangers at the national parks along the Sierra Nevada, and helped lay roads and rail lines throughout the West during expansion after the Civil War, Wagar said.

All three Buffalo Soldier groups in Nevada spoke about their work, and the honor it was to be a part of the day.

State Sens. Dallas Harris and Pat Spearman were granted honorary lifetime membership to the Southern Nevada Buffalo Soldiers, “for leading the charge to recognize the 28th of July as Buffalo Soldier Day in Nevada,” said Trooper Keith Hill, president of the 9th and 10th Horse Cavalry Association.

“I am extremely humbled and proud to be a very small part of what is actually the first Buffalo Soldiers Day in the nation. We want to make sure that Nevada is the model for the country in so many ways,” Harris said.

“Some people might look at this as a small step, but it takes a small step to walk a mile,” said Willie Harrell, president of the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club.

Harrell expressed excitement at the work the club is doing for the Las Vegas Valley, and provided a history of the motorcycle club. The Nevada chapter, which began in 2005, is the 42nd in the country.

The third Buffalo Soldiers group to present Saturday, a sister organization to the motorcycle club, was represented by Doris Johnson, who founded the group in honor of Cathy Williams, the only female Buffalo Soldier.

The group provides services to homeless female veterans, a group Johnson said has a population of more than 55,000 nationwide.

Johnson was originally part of the original Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club in Chicago founded in 1993, but wanted to focus on the veteran who is never spoken about.

“There are statues of white women that went into the Independence War as men. They come out and they have statues in their honor, they have streets named after them. There’s nothing named after Cathy Williams other than what the Buffalo Soldiers have done,” Johnson said.

Johnson said Williams helped pave the way for the law allowing women to legally join the military nearly 100 years later.

“This is a history that everybody needs to know about. She is responsible for the women being in the military today. This is why they passed the law in 1948.”

Many residents expressed dismay that school curriculum does not cover Buffalo Soldiers at all, or African-American history enough.

“So many students only hear about black history in February,” said Matt Killingsworth, a humanities teacher at Mendoza Elementary School.

Killingsworth has been pushing for the Clark County School District to include more African-American history in its curriculum for several years. In the meantime, he invites the Buffalo Soldiers 9th and 10th Calvary to speak in his classroom each year.

Social worker Renata Coles expressed a similar sentiment.

“I’ve gone through school here and it was not something that was talked about,” she said.

Coles came with her husband, Damian, and their three children, two girls, ages 8 and 5, and one boy, 5.

“It’s great to have these people from the community come out and get the history,” Damian Coles said. “Bring the kids out and show them some American black history.”

A campaign representative for U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California reiterated her message on school curriculum on behalf of the presidential hopeful.

“One of the things that Sen. Harris said time and time again is that black history is American history. It’s time that it’s recognized as U.S. history, it’s time it’s taught in schools and recognized in textbooks.”

Spearman made closing remarks, thanking the Buffalo Soldiers for the work accomplished to recognize the holiday on Sunday.

“Whatever we are accomplishing today, we are standing on the shoulders of giants, and without you we may not have had integration in the services,” she said.

Contact Sabrina Schnur at sschnur@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0278. Follow @sabrina_schnur on Twitter.