Honoring Buffalo Soldiers’ role in establishing the National Parks

African-American participation in the armed forces dates back to the Revolutionary War. During the Civil War over 180,000 black men fought for the Union Army in volunteer regiments. The stirring movie “Glory,” starring Morgan Freeman, dealt with that period.

But it was not until after the Civil War that African Americans could enlist in the Regular Army. In 1866, Congress created six segregated regiments, which were soon consolidated into four black regiments. They became known as "The Buffalo Soldiers."

About 500 Buffalo Soldiers served in Yosemite and Sequoia national parks, with duties ranging from evicting poachers and timber thieves to extinguishing forest fires. To learn more about them, go to the National Park Service site that I consulted.

On Feb. 25, California Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D) testified before a House Natural Resources subcommittee in support of her Buffalo Soldiers bill (H.R. 4491). It would authorize the Park Service to study the role the African American regiments played in establishing the National Park System and to honor their legacy.

"It is fitting, during Black History Month, that we take the first steps towards the rightful recognition of these soldiers,” she said.

Read the Fresno Bee’s story about the hearing or listen to Congresswoman Speier’s testimony on YouTube.

photo: Buffalo Soldiers in the 24th Infantry carried out mounted patrol duties in Yosemite, 1899. Courtesy Yosemite Research Library and NPS.