When patrons and elementary school students visit The 9th and 10th Horse Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers Museum on South Wilkeson Street in Tacoma — one of only two of its kind in the country — the tour includes a stop in the museum’s audio-visual presentation room, wherein guests are shown parts of the Frank Martin documentary For Love of Liberty.
Due to graphic scenes of war, just how much of the video the audience is shown depends on the age of the group, but everyone watches the film’s introduction with former Secretary of State and retired four-star general Colin Powell.
“For so many years, they served their nation without their nation serving them,” Powell begins. “They served because they believed in this nation, they believed in the promise of our democracy, they believed in what the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution said. But for so many years, they were denied the rights and privileges that other Americans enjoyed.
“Their story isn’t well-known; their story was suppressed,” Powell continues. “… But theirs is a wonderful story. It is the story of a group of Americans who never lost their love of this country, never lost their faith in what the founding fathers had promised. And that’s why this story is simply called For Love of Liberty.”
The gallant men to whom Powell was paying tribute are the Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments, a name later attributed to all Black soldiers until 1944. Named by Native Americans after the respected bison of the Great Plains, these troops served in every American war between the Civil War and World War II while facing bias and racism from those outside the military, and within their own ranks.
The video’s monologue is one that Jackie Jones-Hook, the museum’s executive director and daughter of its founder, has heard countless times before, not only from Powell’s disembodied voice, but also from her father.
A Buffalo Solider and prisoner of the Korean War, William Jones left a legacy as a patriot, a military dad, and one heck of a Buffalo Solider memorabilia collector when he died in January 2009. In fact, many of the items on display in the five-room museum belonged to Jones during his time in service.
As of press time, the museum was limited to private household groups due to COVID-19 restrictions. Earlier days saw Jones-Hook escorting elementary school classes, youth organizations, and small groups around the museum.
Allowing members of the group to take in each display, Jones-Hook punctuates the silence with a story about this weapon or that faded newspaper article.
One of Jones-Hook’s favorite exhibits to share with younger patrons is a collection of prints depicting military life. Hand-drawn by renowned artist Frederic Remington during scouting missions with the Buffalo Soldiers, these prints paint a literal picture of what it was like out on the prairie as the soldiers helped the government draw territorial lines.
“For so many years, they served their nation without their nation serving them. They served because they believed in this nation, they believed in the promise of our democracy, they believed in what the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution said. But for so many years, they were denied the rights and privileges that other Americans enjoyed.”
“It (wasn’t) that long ago, but for kids to just visualize and get in touch with lifestyles — the way it was,” Jones-Hook said. “And then, of course, we can always fast-forward to today to get them to recognize what lifestyles are today and how much they should appreciate.”
The museum puts an impetus on lessons such as this for kids and young adults, Jones-Hook said. “America is such a mess because American history is really not taught very well in schools; our kids don’t know history. … And that’s why we as a museum are really about getting young kids to understand American history,” she said.
Each room in the museum is meant to educate visitors around the contributions of these Black soldiers.
“We have organized (the five rooms) in terms of chronological order — starting with ‘from slaves to soldiers’ — this is where the story begins,” Jones-Hook said, standing at the threshold and gesturing toward a framed document. “This is a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation written by Abraham Lincoln that actually freed the men.”
Jones-Hook emphasized that after being freed, the Buffalo Soldiers showed selfless dedication to serve a country that had enslaved them.
“This room really talks about strength,” Jones-Hook said. “It encompasses all people today, because the strongest people in the world aren’t those most protected; (they are) the ones that must struggle against adversity and obstacles in order to survive.”
The subsequent rooms include themes centered around bravery and honor, military life, Black troops, and more. Little-known facts about the soldiers are revealed on plaques and framed posters that accompany actual training manuals, lanterns, gold-panning equipment, swords, and more.
Around one corner, a patron might learn that Buffalo Soldiers were among the National Park Service’s first-ever park rangers. In another room, it is revealed that the men had their own baseball league. Elsewhere, guests learn about the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps, which was an attempt by an Army officer to “modernize the Army” and to “show that cycling was faster than marching and cheaper than traveling on horseback,” according to the 2012 historynet.com article on display.
But perhaps the most surprising fact one might learn during a tour of the museum is the historical significance the South Sound has for the soldiers. “It has huge military significance,” Jones-Hook told an army.mil writer in July 2019 regarding her fight to earmark a DuPont property for historical landmark status or raise the funds to purchase it for $1.62 million and thereby save it from commercial development. “This area was the genesis of Joint Base Lewis-McChord. During 1904, during the first American Lake Maneuvers, over 4,000 Buffalo Soldiers performed war games at this site.”
This is a battle that Jones-Hook still is fighting today. Concurrently, she also is working on expanding the museum or possibly relocating it to Seattle as part of a partnership with the Museum of History and Innovation.
This move likely will take a least two years to come to fruition; meanwhile, Jones-Hook will continue to proudly relay the history of the Buffalo Soldiers to all who visit the museum.
As the worn DVD of For Love of Liberty reaches a conclusion, the final words underline Jones-Hook’s ongoing mission.
“The Harlem Hellfighters spent 191 days in frontline trenches — more than any other American unit,” the narrator said. “There was often nothing between the German Army and Paris but these Black volunteers from New York. During that time, they never had any men captured nor any ground taken.”
“That’s huge,” Jones-Hook excitedly interjected. “They won World War I, and nobody knows that.”
When You Go
The 9th and 10th Horse Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers Museum, 1940 S. Wilkeson St., Tacoma, is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday or by appointment by calling 253.272.4257. Hours and more may vary due to COVID-19. Verify current information before planning a visit. Learn more at buffalosoldierstacoma.org.