Although African American soldiers fought in American wars since the Revolution, in 1869 Congress established four all-black regiments within the U.S. Army. Known for their fierce bravery and fighting spirit, they would become known as the "Buffalo Soldiers," and would become among the first rangers, protecting parks in the western United States before the National Park Service was created.
In 2016, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Buffalo Soldiers, special Presidio events were organized including a cemetery walk at the Presidio's San Francisco National Cemetery, where more than 400 Buffalo Soldiers are buried. Buffalo Soldiers motorcycle clubs from Northern California escorted kids from the Bayview Hunters Point YMCA and other event guests to the cemetery where they lay roses at the gravestone of each Buffalo Soldier.
During the cemetery walk, we asked guests, "What brought you out today?"
Larry Wilson and Tony Calhoun
Larry "Gunny" Wilson (North Bay): Legacy and history. I became involved with the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club (BSMC) four years ago, and as a veteran of the Army, I’m happy to be a part of this event today. Everyone should be aware of the Buffalo Soldiers and their legacy – they were soldiers who rode out from the Presidio on horseback to patrol Yosemite. We're here to acknowledge their service, what they've done, and to help keep their spirit alive.
Tony Calhoun (Oakland, Gunny's nephew): Being a former Army and Air Force guy familiar with the Buffalo Soldiers, this is kind of a personal event for me. I’m a motorcycle rider and a veteran, so joining the BSMC was almost a must. Family involvement is also really important at the BSMC, and this is a family event – both are a great way of honoring the whole legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers.
Jesse Osorio (San Francisco): I work with Bayview YMCA as the youth and teens program coordinator. Over the years, we've been working with the Presidio Trust education team on a project about legacy where kids ask themselves, what is a legacy and what do we want to be remembered for? We bring kids to the Presidio for overnight trips at Rob Hill Campground and the kids have gotten to know the San Francisco National Cemetery where they’ve learned the background of the Buffalo Soldiers and they’ve done some rubbings from the gravestones. With these experiences, all of our kids have spent a lot of time learning what the Buffalo Soldiers are all about.
Ahmarii Hill, Aasha Goodman, and Andya Mayfield
Ahmarii Hill (San Francisco, 13): I got involved today because my program through the YMCA helped me learn about my heritage - about how African American soldiers fought in the war and were forgotten. Sometimes they said they didn’t even know when they died or when they were born or what their names were or their rank. So I feel like I need to give back and do my part to remember them and honor them. I need to say their name and acknowledge them.
Aasha Goodman (Daily City, 14): I decided to get involved today because I felt that people need to know how important the Buffalo Soldiers were.
Andya Mayfield (Richmond, 14): I’m here because the Buffalo Soldiers deserve to be remembered – each of them was a human being, and some were so young when they died.
Dutch Fritz and Karen Byrnes
Dutch Fritz (Belmont, CA): I'm assisting my wife with her writing project, which will involve a descendent of a Buffalo Soldier. So we're here to learn more.
Karen Byrnes (Belmont, CA, but originally from San Francisco): We're doing a ghost festival at the Magic Theater hopefully next July, and one of the stories is called, "Time After Time." It's about an African American soldier in 1940 who meets a Caucasian nurse. They fall in love and their love is not to be. Flash forward to 2016, and they meet here on Memorial Day, and they end up having the beginnings of a relationship.
Michael LoBue (San Francisco): I'm the CEO of the California Association of Flower Growers and Shippers. For this year's Memorial Day in the Presidio, we donated 2,000 roses and 250 bouquets as thank yous and remembrances for those who came to the commemoration. Based on that, we were asked to attain flowers for this ceremony, and we were more than happy to ask the Memorial Day Flower Foundation and some of our growers to contribute bouquets. I also feel like I have ties to the Buffalo Soldiers – my office is here in the Presidio in the former barracks of the Buffalo Soldiers.
Denise Hall (San Francisco): I came out because I wanted to learn more about the Buffalo Soldiers and pay my respects. They did so much for our country, and this place is just so beautiful, too.
This event was sponsored by the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club, National Park Service, Young Audiences of Northern California, Friends of Allensworth, and the Presidio Trust. It was part of the African American National Parks Event.