Bonnie Petrie and Mike Barajas

What to Do in Houston: Inclusion, Preservation at the Heart of Buffalo Soldiers National Museum

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Buffalo Soldier National Museum Tour

Museum CEO Captain Paul J. Matthews takes students from Alief ISD’s Albright Middle School on a tour of the weaponry at the Buffalo Soldier National Museum, in Houston. (Credit: Brandon De Hoyos/NEWS 92 FM)

A once forgotten part of American history is now on full display in Houston’s historic Third Ward.

The dedication of men and women of color comes to life for visitors of the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, 3816 Caroline, where a collection of artifacts, exhibits and reenactments chronicle the journey of African and Native Americans is service through the U.S. military.

But, what started as a memorial to black soldiers in 2001 actually began when museum CEO Captain Paul J. Matthews picked up a military history book at Prairie View A&M University.

“I first heard of the Buffalo Soldiers as an ROTC cadet at Prairie View A&M University back in the 1960s,” Matthews said.

“Read two paragraphs in one military book about the Buffalo Soldiers, and became very intrigued about these black men in the blue uniform. That led me to a 30 year journey of collecting artifacts, documents, memorabilia and things you see here today.”

Herein, visitors can meet some of the last Buffalo Soldiers–the greatest generation which served in World War II, plus discover what a day in the life of one of these brave men and women was like from the 1770s through the Persian Gulf War.

The chance to offer a glimpse into this once neglected past is important, Matthews says.

“I think the historians say it best: if a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the world and stands in danger of being exterminated,” Matthews said.

Reenactment actor James Reid Faulkner says the exclusion of minorities from American history must be addressed.

“When you watch movies and you see the Westerns, you very seldom see black people,” Faulkner said. “But, in the west, every four cowboys, one was black and one was Mexican. So, we need to change the perception.”

For Faulkner, sharing this history is personal.

His own family boasts trailblazers in the black community, including his grandfather who served as the first black foreman of then Armco Steel, and his father, a Montford Point Marine and one of the first black aerodynamic engineers to build fighter jet aircraft for the military.

“There is not enough real history in the schools,” Faulkner said. “A lot of those kids when I mention Little Bighorn and [Col. George] Custer, they don’t know what I’m talking to me which, to me, is amazing.”

Fortunately, the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum offers an interactive and fun way to engage with America’s military past, as seventh grade Albright Middle School Texas history teacher Jessica Davis found on a recent field trip.

“We are actually learning about the Buffalo Soldiers as we seek, so it was really exciting to get to bring the kids here to actually see the artifacts and hear the stories about the Buffalo Soldiers,” Davis said.

“It’s something they can’t necessarily experience in the classroom.”

The museum is open Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. They are closed on Sunday. You can find out more about the tours and exhibits, upcoming events and how to support the museum online at www.buffalosoldiermuseum.com.

Visitor’s Tips

  • Leave the Camera at Home. Photography is not permitted in exhibits or reenactment performances.
  • Bring Comfortable Shoes. The museum offers a lot of great things to see and you may be on your feet awhile during the tour of the museum.
  • Touch Carefully. Some of the artifacts seen in the museum can be touched to give you a close encounter to the life of a Buffalo Soldier. But, be careful, some are fragile.
  • Hit the ATM First. Make sure to bring some money for the gift shop, where you can find t-shirts, caps, posters and other items centered on black and American history.

 

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