‘There’s somebody in your house that knows nothing about this’: What Denny IMS classes learned from Buffalo Soldiers of Seattle

By Sean Golonka
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

The sounds of Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier” intermingled with the chatter of more than two dozen 7th-graders as students in Alan Blackman’s Washington state history class filed into the library at Denny International Middle School today.

At the front of the room stood Lenard Howze, whose grandfather was a Buffalo Soldier and whose father founded the Buffalo Soldiers of Seattle, a regional nonprofit dedicated to community outreach and youth engagement.

Blackman had previously spent time in class teaching his students about the Buffalo Soldiers, Black servicemen who served in the 1800s and 1900s (some of their history is told by the National Museum of African American History and Culture and National Park Service).

Now Howze was at Denny to give the students a look at the equipment the soldiers wore and used and to educate them on the Buffalo Soldiers’ role in American history – including their service here in the Pacific Northwest.

“A lot of what we like to do as an organization is teach you and help you to learn a direction and … understand US history, and how we’re all able to sit here in this room together and have so many different colors and facets of people,” Howze told the students during a presentation this morning.

The presentation also came with a pitch: The Buffalo Soldiers of Seattle offer free youth programs the students can sign up for. Howze said that includes equine sports camps and outdoor activities during the summer. Those programs date back to the 1990s when his father and others started a cadet program to teach local youth about horsemanship, outdoorsmanship, and the history of the Buffalo Soldiers.

These African American soldiers — including former slaves, freemen, and Black Civil War soldiers — served in the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments and 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments in the U.S. Army and helped protect and facilitate the nation’s westward expansion.

Native Americans called these troops “Buffalo Soldiers” because their dark, curly hair resembled a buffalo’s coat and because the soldiers fought like the fierce buffalo of the Great Plains, according to popular lore.

Blackman said he became interested in teaching about the soldiers through lessons about the Yukon Gold Rush and finding out that Buffalo Soldiers had served as a police force in parts of Alaska during that time.

He described the opportunity to host Howze, also a parent of a Denny IMS student, as a “fortuitous moment” to shine a light on both American and Seattle history. The Buffalo Soldiers have varied ties to Washington throughout their history, including a company of the 24th Infantry Regiment’s post at Vancouver Barracks in 1899. They are also memorialized at the 9th and 10th Horse Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers Museum in Tacoma.

Closest to home, the Buffalo Soldiers of the 25th Infantry Regiment transferred from the Philippines to Seattle’s Fort Lawton (in what is now Discovery Park) in 1909. The soldiers and their families constituted approximately one-third of the Black population of Seattle (about 2,400 people in 1910) during the time they were stationed there, according to HistoryLink. The regiment left in 1913 after being transferred to Hawaii.

Howze played a documentary for the students that highlighted how, alongside serving in the military, Buffalo Soldiers were some of the first national park rangers, with duties including fighting wildfires, curbing poaching, ending illegal grazing on federal lands, and constructing roads and other infrastructure.

Their moniker has lived on through other soldiers — African American soldiers in the 92nd Infantry Division adopted the buffalo as the symbol for its unit patch during World War I, for example — and in pop culture, such as Bob Marley’s song and the movie “Buffalo Soldiers” starring Danny Glover.

Students also participated in the discussion, answering questions from Howze about the role and history of Buffalo Soldiers. One group of students shared their own presentation about the soldiers, highlighting the role of the Buffalo Soldiers in later wars and the medals of honor some received for their service, as well as the difficult situation the men faced serving at a time when African Americans still were targeted by violence and discrimination in the wake of the Civil War.

Blackman noted how the regiments of only-Black soldiers were dissolved with the desegregation of the Armed Forces in the 1940s. But Howze said the Buffalo Soldiers live on through groups like his. “The Buffalo Soldiers are still alive. I’m one of them,” Howze said, referring to himself as a “historian” of the group.

Howze also showed students several historical replicas of items used by the Buffalo Soldiers. That included camping gear, a saddle, and other horse-riding equipment, though a slew of replica weapons he brought were unable to be displayed because of school policy.

As he wrapped up the presentation, Howze encouraged the students to take part in his group’s programs, highlighting how the Buffalo Soldiers have been forgotten or overlooked in American history and harkening back to the same reason his father and others started the Buffalo Soldiers of Seattle more than two decades ago.

“There’s somebody in your house that knows nothing about this, I promise you,” he said. “You can probably walk up to your parents and then teach them something, and they’ll be astonished that you’re able to show them something so significant about U.S. history.”

7 Replies to "'There's somebody in your house that knows nothing about this': What Denny IMS classes learned from Buffalo Soldiers of Seattle"

  • Denny Staff April 3, 2024 (9:38 am)

    Mr. Blackman, Us staff at Denny appreciate you so much for bring this to our kids! its important that they learn the truth about history that’s not taught. 

  • JTM April 3, 2024 (9:39 am)

    This is amazing! Well done to Mr.  Howze and SPS for bringing this program to life for students.

  • Rose April 3, 2024 (10:23 am)

    How awesome is this! It is an important part of our history so glad we have a local doing this presentation. Now we gotta figure out how he can do a presentation for adults, so we can learn more!

  • local April 3, 2024 (10:41 am)

    This is so awesome. Bravo to all involved! 

  • Just wondering April 3, 2024 (6:12 pm)

    Also the hats worn by National Park Rangers were inspired by the hats that the Buffalo Soldiers wore while protecting Yosemite National Park.

  • kt April 3, 2024 (7:55 pm)

    Well done! We need more of this sort of experience for our youth! 

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