Tucson is now the proud home of the Buffalo Soldier Memorial Plaza at the Quincie Douglas Center. Since few know what the Buffalo Soldiers are, Sun News has all the details for you!
First stop is the Desert Art Museum, which has what may become a permanent display of art by David Laughlin, who died last year at age 90. Just before his death, Laughlin supervised the installation of a selection of his art here. From 1981 to 1996, he researched the troops, known as the 10th Cavalry Regiment, whose presence in Arizona spanned 11 years from 1885 to 1896.
In addition to evocative paintings, Laughlin created a series of 24 prints entitled Military Hours, showing a typical scene from each hour of the day as to what the soldiers were doing. In this he was inspired by Frederic Remington, who travelled with soldiers to document through the medium of art their activities and encounters in the Arizona Territory. One of the Hours shows soldiers sitting around a campfire, listening to one of them play the banjo. Lack of wall space in the small room devoted to Laughlin’s art allows only 12 of these 24 prints to be displayed.
So, just who are these so-called Buffalo soldiers? A park ranger from Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas, Dave Bieri, explains it. “Immediately following the Civil War, the Guadalupe Mountains witnessed a clash of cultures as recently freed African Americans serving in the U.S. Army engaged the Mescalero Apaches in an effort to bring about settlement of the West. It was a fight for freedom on both sides.”
To delve deeper into this, I interviewed Jon Covington, co-chair of the Memorial. Covington, who retired from military service in 1995, told me his father was station at Ft Huachuca, southeast of Tucson. In the 19th century, that Fort “was the only one that housed all four regiments of the Buffalo Soldiers. The units were formed between 1866 and 1869. Initially there were two cavalry regiments (the 9th and 10th) and four infantry, later reduced to two. They were the 24th and 25th infantry units.”
Their duties were varied and important. “They served as protectors of railroads and wagon trains; they were the original border patrol, and they were the post office. They did all these things but they still were not accepted; they were doing this to prove they were true Americans.”
I asked Covington, an African American, about how he became involved in this. “Everyplace I’ve been to since I left Detroit, I found a good way to become a part of the community was to be a part of the black community. In my family history, my great aunt Fanny Richards was the first black schoolteacher in Detroit. There has always been a spark in me that connects me with the African American community.”
Recognising that Tucson “has some very rich African American history,” Covington said that Sammy Parker, Arizona Buffalo Soldier Association, located in Tucson, started the journey in 2006 to have recognition in Southern Arizona of the black soldiers with cooperation from the Ward 5 Office. Then, the Greater Southern Arizona Chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers continued the efforts with the Ward 5 Office for a Buffalo Soldier memorial in 2014
The result was the unveiling earlier this month of a large pink granite memorial. The granite, from Canada, was fabricated in Georgia and finally engraved in Tucson. The three Buffalo Soldiers who were awarded the Medal of Honor are included on one side of the trapezoidal monument. Another side depicts a map that shows where the Buffalo soldiers served. The plaza also includes 6 historic plaques with 12 history panels. “The objective of the monument,’ said Covington, “is to talk about what these men overcame.”
Hundreds of photos taken at the dedication of the Memorial Plaza (1575 E 36th St) can be seen at the first link in blue type. The second link is for a video of the unveiling ceremony. I highly recommend a visit to see the artwork inspired by the Buffalo soldiers, and take the time to view the informative movie about them too:
Desert Art Museum is at 7000 E Tanque Verde Rd.
Visit their website: Tucsondart.org