The Buffalo Soldiers & San Francisco / by Lee Bruno

The Buffalo Soldiers escort of the Liberty Bell in November 1915 wasn’t the first time the African American troops had participated in a public ceremony and celebration. On October 31, 1902, the Buffalo Soldiers arrived in San Francisco and also received a well-deserved rest after having spent 18 months fighting insurgents in the disease-infested jungles of the Philippines. A year later in May 1903, the decorated soldiers provided the security protection for President Theodore Roosevelt who visited San Francisco that month during a tour of the United States.

San Francisco hosted a special gala parade down Market Street on May 12 to honor the President. The Buffalo Soldiers who had rode and fought fearlessly alongside Roosevelt on San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War were once again at his side. A film documenting his ride in a horse-drawn carriage shows Captain Charles Young and the mounted soldiers of the Ninth in the parade. Captain Young had graduated from West Point in 1889 as the third African American to do so. He was a scholar and an accomplished linguist, speaking Latin, Greek, French, Spanish and German. The Buffalo Soldiers accompanied an entourage of secret service men in top hats who walked on either side of the presidential carriage to supplement mounted police and a military honor guard. The extraordinary number of security guards was in place to prevent an assassination, which took down his predecessor, President William McKinley.

The story of the Buffalo Soldiers did not end well. In 1917, the Houston Mutiny and Riot resulted in the hanging of 19 soldiers and disbanding of the Buffalo Soldiers honored regiment. At Camp Logan, a mutiny and riot of 156 African American soldiers from the all-black Twenty-fourth United States Infantry Regiment resulted in the deaths of four soldiers and sixteen civilians. The riot was precipitated by two Houston police officers that on August 23, 1917 stormed the home of a black woman and assaulted her while looking for someone. A crowd gathered and a soldier from the 24th Infantry stepped forward to inquire what was going on and was beat and arrested. The rioting soldiers were tried, courts-martialed and a total of 19 were executed, and forty-one were given life sentences.

As for the great military major, Charles Young was denied the opportunity to fight in the battlefields of Europe during World War I. “The life of Charles Young was a triumph of tragedy,” wrote W.E.B. DuBois in a memorial to Colonel Young, which appeared in the February 1922 issue of The Crisis. “No one ever knew the truth about the Hell he went through at West Point.”

“I fear that I shall have to pray all the rest of my days that God will help me forgive the execution of these Negro soldiers,” wrote Delilah Beasley. “Not that I wish to condone for anything they might have done. But because try as I will I cannot but feel that the honor shown them at the P. P. I. E. was too much for the memory of the people of Texas, and thus for escorting the Liberty Bell they paid the price in after years with their lives,” she added. “I firmly believe that whatever they did in Houston, they were aggravated to do. While San Francisco, with all its mixed population, was a good test of the man hood and honor of these Negro boys, they stood the test and left a clean record behind them.”