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John B. Williams, Oldest Buffalo Soldier in Columbus, OH

Posted on November 10, 2018 at 8:40 AM Comments comments (0)


African American service members stand on the shoulders of famous Civil War slavery heroes, the Buffalo Soldiers. Had there not been a Civil War, there never would have been civil rights. Over 200,000 men and one-inconspicuous-woman, Cathay Williams, served as Buffalo Soldiers from 1866 - 1944. After the war, thousands of caucasian troops returned home to their families. The Buffalo Soldiers continued to serve and support the missions of the United States Army. They were the first to make the military a professional career by serving up to 20 years.

Young Adult Minister, Alexander Roseboro, made a unique decision when he commemorated February as African American History month at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church. He chose to share a part of history that many young adults had little or no knowledge. A legendary lesson was taught by Allen “Stampede” Carter, President of Columbus Buffalo Soldiers Motor Cycle Club. Today’s Buffalo Soldiers have transitioned from relying on equestrian modes of transportation to motorcycles. Stampede captured the attention of both young and old during a soul food dinner in the H. Beecher Hicks Fellowship Hall.

The chronicles of the great African American Buffalo Soldiers and the roles they played in nearby Wilberforce, Ohio caught many by surprise. Some young adults’ googled Stampede's facts during his speech on the first-three-West Point Academy Cadets and graduates. He spoke to the audience about Lieutenant Colonel Henry Ossian Flipper, Lieutenant John Hanks Alexander, and Colonel Charles Young. These men each took part in leading the way for African American military officers everywhere. The mesmerized audience was amazed to learn more about the connections of Colonel Young at nearby Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio. There was a question and answer session following Stampede’s speech.

A Columbus native, 92-year-old John B. Williams, is one of approximately 93 living legends who were a part of the original Buffalo Soldiers. Drafted as an enlisted Soldier following his graduation from East High School, he was drafted and sent to California. Williams later was sent to Europe with the 15th/53rd Heavy Pontoon Regiment. He joined the Buffalo Soldiers when his unit synchronized with the 10th Calvary and fought alongside General George Patton in Italy.

“White women started complaining about the Black Soldiers that were still in the United States while their husbands were fighting overseas, said Williams. We were combat-ready but not allowed to fight overseas until the Defender Newspaper, a black Chicago Press and the Pittsburg Carrier Newspaper reported that well-trained-and-equipment-ready Black Soldiers could not deploy overseas because of their skin color,” he added.

The Veteran Staff Sergeant has made it a lifelong mission to keep the story about the brave and courageous Buffalo Soldiers alive. Like the Tuskegee Airmen’s story, many history books omitted facts about the African American men who fought and died for our country. The non-profit organization, Columbus Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club, continues to educate the public on the missing pages of our African American ancestral heroes. The nationwide organization has a chapter in nearly every major city.

On July 25, 1992, in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on the exact same site where the Buffalo Soldiers lived and died, a magnificent homage to their spirit and legacy was erected. A bronze statue commissioned by General Colin Powell commemorates the great fighters.

“These Soldiers protected the American frontier from the American Revolution through the Indian Wars. They also served in the Spanish-American War, Mexican expedition, the Cuban Crisis, Philippine insurrection, both World Wars, and the Korean conflict. Also a one hundred man detachment from the 9th Cavalry served to teach future officers at West Point riding instruction.

“The importance of these men in the development of the American West went beyond serving in combat; they helped build frontier forts, constructed telegraph lines, and patrolled the Mexican border, and captured thieves and outlaw gangs, “according to the Buffalo Soldiers history website.

Nearly 70 years later in 2015, after Cathay Williams served as a Buffalo Soldier, the Pentagon has finally caught up with reality and lifted the ban on women in combat. Born into slavery, she served in the 38th U. S. Infantry from 1866 to 1868. She became a trail blazer for servicewomen everywhere. Military records from her sick-call visits to five different military doctors never indicated that she was a woman. Just like many men, she became ill from exhaustion while traveling through rough terrain, living in the field, and crossing turbulent and dangerous waters. Cathay hid her true identity by changing her name to William Cathay. Discharged papers from the military were not enough to grant her a pension when her health worsened from military-related illnesses. Caucasian women later disguised themselves and received their military pensions. Cathay also opened more doors for herself by becoming a self-employed small business owner as a laundress. Unfortunately, retribution has never been granted to her ancestors for her pension. The Army noted on her pension papers that Cathay Williams, also known as William Cathey were one in the same. Today, she is known as the first “female” American Combat Soldier.

The last chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers ended in World War II. In spite of their great sacrifices and outstanding performance, the Buffalo Soldiers were not fully recognized or appreciated by the United States government or its citizens. Many of them walked in shame and were embarrassed to disclose who they were to family and friends. They were led to believe that their service in the military was not noteworthy.

Recently, on March 12, 2015, the National Park Service commemorated Colonel Charles Young‘s 151st birthday at the African American Museum & Cultural Arts Center in Wilberforce, Ohio. He was born into slavery in Mays Lick, Kentucky and escaped to Ripley, Ohio with his parents. He was the ninth African American to attend Westport to become an Officer and the third to graduate and earn a commission. He served with the 9th Calvary during the Civil War. Following the war he returned to Wilberforce, Ohio and taught military science and tactics’ to African Americans interested in becoming Officers. Today it is known as the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). Colonel Young became close friends with W.E.B. Dubois and Paul Lawrence Dunbar. He was a Military Attaché in both Haiti and Liberia. In 1916 Charles Young earned a medal from the NAACP for his infrastructure work performed in Liberia. When he taught in Wilberforce his father died. He and his mother purchased a home west of the college. Thanks to his supporters, The Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument (his home) now stands and a historical marker is dedicated to his life. Not only did Colonel Young inspire black men to join the Officer Training Corps, he also became the first African American Superintendent of National Parks when he and his 9th Calvary men worked the land in Sequoia, CA. The roads that were built then are still in existence today.


Written by Serbennia Davis


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