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Memorial plaza in Tucson chronicles Buffalo Soldiers history

Posted at 3:14 PM, May 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-03 19:48:45-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — A new memorial plaza celebrates the history of the Buffalo Soldiers in Southern Arizona.

The memorial is located at the Quincie Douglas Center off of Kino Parkway.

Tucson Parks and Recreation calls the memorial plaza the first voter-approved project of its type in the city.

The Buffalo Soldiers were trailblazers not only in westward expansion, but in challenging racial stereotypes.

"As the country moved westward so did the black soldiers in service to the United States," said Jon Covington, a member of the Greater Southern Arizona Area Chapter (GSAAC) of the Buffalo Soldiers.

That service was as Buffalo Soldiers.

Covington and the GSAAC spearheaded the effort to build the new memorial.

His group is trying to educate Tucson about the remarkable military force.

The Buffalo Soldiers had mottos like "We Can, We Will" and "Ready and Forward."

"That's the attitude that they served this country all the time," explained Covington. "They were ready."

Following the Civil War, six all-Black cavalry and infantry regiments were created after Congress passed the Army Organization Act.

That was later reduced to two cavalry regiments, the 9th and the 10th, and two infantry regiments, the 24th and the 25th.

All four units spent time at Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, making it the true home of the Buffalo Soldiers.

Buffalo Soldiers training at Fort Huachuca

You will find exhibits dedicated to the Buffalo Soldiers at the Fort Huachuca Museum.

Although, you won't find any early references to the name Buffalo Soldiers.

"There are many, many, many diaries and letters that were written by the members of the original regiments and that term just does not appear until right before World War I," said Paul Pipik, Fort Huachuca Historian.

"My understanding is that they were given that name by the Cheyenne because of their fierce fighting tactics and their appearance," said Covington.

The Buffalo Soldiers fought fiercely, not only in helping westward expansion, but also in foreign conflicts like the Spanish American War and the charge up San Juan Hill.

History often highlights Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders and overlooks the Buffalo Soldiers.

"The Buffalo Soldiers were the one that took the hill," said GSAAC member Sam Freeman Jr. "The Buffalo Soldiers took the hill, but the President got credit for taking the hill."

The Buffalo Soldiers battled prejudice and racism as they battled to defend our nation.

"Nobody's trying to say that didn't happen, it did," Covington said referring to racism. "Of course the conflicts with the Native Americans, all that stuff happened in the forming of the country and the expansion of the country. But think about what these men went through and what they overcame. If I had to some up the history they're overcomers. They overcame a lot things to give us the opportunities that we can have today."

The Buffalo Soldiers also helped establish many national parks in the west.

Did you know the hat worn by Smokey the Bear is modeled after the Buffalo Soldiers hat?

Just another part of the Buffalo Soldiers story.

A story Covington and Freeman are now telling through a new memorial plaza.

Buffalo Soldiers Memorial Plaza

"Not just that they were black soldiers, but the things that they did, accomplished out here," Freeman said. "How they helped the area to grow."

The memorial plaza will help Tucsonans learn more about the Buffalo Soldiers.

That includes three soldiers who earned the medal of honor serving in Southern Arizona.

"We have all that great history and we're trying to set the table so that people can get a good sense," Covington said. "Then, they would do their own research."

The Buffalo Soldiers Memorial Plaza is located right next to the Quincie Douglas Library, which will soon have a section dedicated to the Buffalo Soldiers.

Pat Parris is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. He is a graduate of Sabino High School where he was the 1982 high school state track champion in the 800 meters. While in high school and college, he worked part-time in the KGUN 9 newsroom. Share your story ideas and important issues with Pat by emailing or by connecting on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.