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Community News: Southwest

CRENSHAW : Ex-Buffalo Soldiers Give History Lesson

May 29, 1994|SANDRA HERNANDEZ

They are a part of history that Charles Johnson has never read about in any textbook.

But last week, Johnson and 100 other students at Dorsey High School got a firsthand account of what it was like to belong to a black cavalry unit that served in a segregated army.

"Most of the stuff they're telling us we don't really know," said Johnson, a junior. "At first I thought the Buffalo Soldiers were from the Civil War maybe, but I didn't know much about them."

Standing at attention, John Tull, Franklin Henderson and Frederick Jones shared their memories during a two-hour assembly of serving in North Africa, Korea and patrolling the Western states.

"A lot of people are finally recognizing the omission of many different cultures' history," said Henderson, who is president of the Buffalo Soldiers national association.

Created in 1866, the Buffalo Soldiers helped patrol the West on horseback. They later served in World War II and several other conflicts. More recently, the men of the all-black cavalry unit were honored by the Postal Service with a stamp and by the armed forces.

Tull, who joined the Buffalo Soldiers after graduating from college, said he was drawn to the military because of the lack of jobs for African Americans.

"I looked at all the guys who had gone to school with me and they were carrying mail bags or working as janitors. I said I would do better than that and I joined the army because my grandmother, who was a slave, said, 'You've got to get into the cavalry,' " Tull, 75, told students.

The Army disbanded the Buffalo Soldiers in 1944.

For Sabrina Jackson, 17, the oral histories proved to be a lesson she won't soon forget.

"We (teen-agers) hear so much about slavery and the downfall of blacks rather than the positive side of what we've achieved. This is long overdue," Jackson said.

With hands waving in the air, students strained to ask questions that evoked painful memories of loss, isolation and conflict.

Officers "would go around to bars and tell the owners not to serve blacks," said Jones, 73, as he described his service in North Africa. "Segregation seemed to follow us wherever we went."

James Berger, a history teacher at Dorsey, arranged for the veterans to visit the campus.

"What I'm trying to do is get students to talk to people, whether it be to their parents or their grandparents about their history," said Berger.

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