Buffalo Soldier gone, but story lives on
William Jones of Tacoma loved his country. He loved it enough to enlist in the U.S. Army when it was still segregated. He served with the storied Buffalo Soldiers, the all-black 9th and 10th (Horse) Cavalry.
For his country, he built runways in Africa and Italy during World War II. For his country, he ran into enemy fire when his unit landed in South Korea, marched forward until his unit was captured and survived three brutal years as a prisoner of war.
For history, he made a museum dedicated to the Buffalo Soldiers. He attended their reunions across the nation, met with former comrades and spoke about their story of winning civil rights as well as wars.
Authorized by Congress in 1866, the 9th and 10th Horse Cavalry regiments were sent to secure the West for settlement. The Indians called them Buffalo Soldiers, and the warriors claimed the name with pride.
After his retirement from the Army and through his career as owner of Jones Glass and Recyclables, Mr. Jones collected artifacts and literature that told the black soldiers’ story. When the building next door on Wilkeson Street went on the market, he bought it to make a place for history.
Mr. Jones, whom no one called William or Bill or anything less polite than mister, died in December 2009 at age 91.
His museum on Tacoma’s Hilltop is much as he left it. Now his daughter and its new board of directors hope it is bound for a unique glory.
They have incorporated as a nonprofit and next month will open it for public and school tours by appointment. There will be no admission fees, only donations, said daughter and board president Jackie Jones-Hook.
She’s recruited fellow board members for their strengths and the connections they’ll need for networking with schools, other museums and the military. Edvine Evans is a retired Army sergeant major. William Watkins is a union representative and Mr. Jones’ grandson. Willie Stewart is a former Tacoma School Board member and Lincoln High School principal. Lynn Di Nino is an artist and organizer.
They come to the board with an advantage: The museum is debt free. All the funds they raise can go to replacing the roof first, then expanding exhibits.
There is nothing fancy or slick about Mr. Jones’ Tacoma museum, and that is one of its strengths. As it tells the soldiers’ story, it tells his, too.
“There’s a genealogy room,” Jones-Hook said, pointing to the centerpiece, a photograph of her great-grandparents and grandparents in the field they worked as sharecroppers.
“This will be the war room,” she said of the room set up with equipment a commanding officer might have used during World War II.
Across the hall is the Buffalo Room, dominated by the mounted buffalo head she recently purchased. It’s from Wyoming, she said, and she guarantees it will be the hit of school tours.
“We want to give them a walk back through history,” she said.
The buffalo head, the cavalryman’s saddle and cooking gear will make the stories tangible. A DVD history of the Buffalo Soldiers will, like maps and posters and books, put them into context with the national struggle for racial equality.
There will be much more, Jones-Hook hopes.
She is hoping to find full Buffalo Soldier uniforms and insignia.
She is hoping veterans will be interested in volunteering as tour guides.
She is hoping we will avail ourselves of her father’s gift.
“He had the idea to do a museum to, as Gen. Colin Powell has said, teach others this piece of history that was not very well told,” she said.
After her father died, she and the family sorted through his things. They found a hand-written script for an address Mr. Jones made at one of the Buffalo Soldiers conventions. She has framed it and placed it by the entrance.
“We did our job with honor to make this old world a better place to live in,” Mr. Jones told that long-dispersed audience. “There are not too many of us left. We are proud to leave a little history.”
Kathleen Merryman: 253-597-8677 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/street
The Buffalo Soldiers Museum, at 1940 S. Wilkeson St., Tacoma, is scheduled to open on a limited basis in March. To arrange a tour, call 253-272-4257.