On the wall in a low-slung South Tacoma bungalow is a copy of a document that changed American history: the Declaration of Emancipation, signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.
Not only did it end slavery in the United States, it allowed African-Americans to sign up for the military. Known as the Buffalo Soldiers, the black regiments that were formed served in wars from 1866 to World War II. Their history will be honored this weekend at an open house in Tacoma’s Buffalo Soldiers Museum.
One of only two such museums in the country (the other is in Houston), Tacoma’s museum formed officially as a nonprofit last spring. For Saturday’s open house, director Jackie Jones-Hook is offering guided tours and spoken-word poetry by Elijah Muied to honor last year’s 150th anniversary of emancipation.
“They were called Buffalo Soldiers because they had the hair, the eyes and the toughness of the buffalo,” said Jones-Hook, whose father, William Jones, served in the 10th Horse Cavalry. Unofficially begun by her father before his death, the museum holds his artifacts, photographs, documents and media from emancipation days through World War II, with the aim of educating the public on this part of American military history.
One of those artifacts is, in fact, a buffalo – a stuffed head lowered dramatically from the corner in the museum’s third room. Alongside it are posters of military maneuvers and a World War I uniform. Other rooms tell the story of “Slavery to Military” (including a photograph of Jones-Hook’s sharecropper grandparents in Alabama and a Spanish-American war uniform), “Lifestyles” (which contains artifacts such as early 20th century flatirons, kettles, lanterns, horsewhips and bridles) and “Black Troops” (World War I helmets and canteens, a bugle, swords and a saddle.)
On the hallway wall is a copy of Lincoln’s handwritten declaration that allowed the Buffalo Soldiers to serve.
“The Buffalo Soldiers never lost a battle,” Jones-Hook said. “Being African-American, they had to prove themselves. They were known for their bravery and their discipline.”
The museum has regular hours of 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, and it is always free. But on Saturday, you’ll get guided tours through the rooms (helpful, as most displays don’t have labels) and Muied will perform his spoken word every hour.
Saturday’s hours are noon-4 p.m., with spoken word performances on the hour from 12:30-3:30 p.m. Admission is free. The museum is at 1940 S. Wilkeson St., Tacoma. Call 253-272-4257 or go to buffalosoldierstacoma.org.Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/arts