When Military Meets Art: Honoring Buffalo Soldiers

Jo-Carolyn Goode | 7/20/2018, 6:26 a.m.
Turning the pages of history books there was always something vastly missing… the story of African Americans. Sure, there was ...

Turning the pages of history books there was always something vastly missing… the story of African Americans. Sure, there was plenty of information about the dreadful life of a slave who spent long days picking cotton, being sold like property, and being demoralized every minute of their lives. A little was told about the Jim Crow era when African Americans lived in a country where they were thought of as interior and where cheated of rights and privileges and treated less than. Never were the true tales of the days when African Americans were king and queens, inventors and innovators, and savers and heroes. Thus, affecting how African Americans saw themselves.

However, once the authentic accounts meant to be buried of African Americans’ royal lineage, creativity and acts of heroism that have helped to shape American history became known, the outlook of African Americans changed. Physical examples of people who looked like them of courage, success, and bravery did exist. It became African Americans’ responsibilities to uncover more of this history, share it with the world, and to never let it die.

Captain Paul J. Matthews, a Vietnam veteran, has taken that on as a personal mission. While in college at Prairie View A&M University, he became intrigued by a group of men that fought in every American military war beginning in 1866. Organized through an act of Congress to have six all African American army units, the Buffalo Soldiers were first identified as the 9th and 10th cavalry and the 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st infantry regiments. Later the infantry units were reorganized as the 24th and the 25th infantry. Even though the soldiers were only paid $13.00 a month, commanded only by white officers, desegregated, and fought for a country that didn’t consider them equal, they consider being a soldier as a source of great honor, pride, and privilege. It was a way for them to raise the plight of the African American male.

The duties of the Buffalo Soldiers were mainly to build infrastructure for settlements. They fought in battles to defend the westward expansion. It was during those battles that they got their nickname from the Native Americans. Noting the soldiers’ naturally curly hair and fierce fighting nature, the soldiers’ characteristics reminded Native Americans of the buffalo, hence the name.

The more that Matthews learned, the more he wanted to know and share with others. He found himself grabbing any and everything he could about the soldiers. He traveled near and far telling the story of the Buffalo Soldiers. Before long, he had amassed quite a collection to the point that he could open a museum. In 2001, he did just that. The museum has become one of Houston’s greatest treasurers.

Captain Paul Matthews

Captain Paul Matthews

Matthews’ efforts have made the story of the Buffalo Soldiers more significant in the eyes of America. It is a story that will continue to live on and be told by the many who visit the museum or come in contact with Matthews and others like him. Seventeen years after the opening of the museum, Matthews is still on his quest to tell as many people as possible about the Buffalo Soldiers. He is always seeking new ways to present the information. This July 28, 2018, on National Buffalo Soldiers Day Matthews will merge the story of the soldiers with that of art in a Military Inspired Art Symposium or M.I.A. for short.