By Audrey Peterman
South Florida-based National Park leaders Audrey and Frank Peterman will join scores of people boarding two buses from the Presidio of San Francisco on June 7 journeying up to Yosemite National Park to honor the legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers, who protected that park in 1899 and 1904.
The solemn and celebratory event, “Buffalo Soldiers” from the Presidio to Yosemite: First Annual Trail Retracing” is the brainchild of Bay Area native Teresa Baker, who created the first African American National Parks Weekend last year. Using social media, she encouraged people across the country to visit a national park one specific weekend. Thousands responded to the call and sent her photos of their groups in national parks.
The Buffalo Soldiers Retracing is the landmark event this year and will draw attention to the Buffalo Soldiers who served our country nationally and internationally. As members of the U.S. Military the 24th Infantry and the 9th Cavalry protected both Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks in 1899, 1903 and 1904.
They are largely responsible for the survival of the Giant Sequoia Trees which, at more than 2,000 years old, were alive when Jesus was born.
“It’s amazing how little of this history is known,” says Ms. Baker. “I think it is important for us to recognize the role that our forbearers played in protecting some of our country’s most iconic national parks.”
“Even though the Buffalo Soldiers wore the uniform of the U.S. Army, their ethnicity combined with the racial prejudice of the time made the performance of their duties quite challenging,” says the National Park Service. “In the early 1900s, African Americans were routinely abused, or even killed, for the slightest perceived offense.
They occupied one of the lowest rungs of the social ladder, a fact which served to undercut the authority of any Black man who served in any position of power. Yosemite and Sequoia’s Buffalo Soldiers had to be simultaneously strong and diplomatic to fulfill the duties of their job but to avoid giving offense.”
Last year President Obama designated the Col. Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument to honor them, and legislation is moving through Congress to designate a Buffalo Soldiers Trail across the national parks.
Buses provided by the Presidio will pass through the historic Lombard Gates on June 7, the same gates through which the Buffalo Soldiers rode to get to the parks. Enroute to Yosemite, the pilgrimage will stop at the City of Los Banos where the Buffalo Soldiers rested, and enjoy the hospitality of that city which is among the sponsors of this event. In Yosemite participants will camp out and enjoy a hike led by Robert Hanna, a direct descendant of John Muir.
The highlight of the event will be a Sunday conversation with Park Ranger, Author and media star Shelton Johnson, who was instrumental in bringing the Buffalo Soldiers’ story to light. At his invitation Oprah Winfrey visited the park in 2010 and produced two episodes focusing on the Buffalo Soldiers. The pilgrimage will return to the Presidio late Sunday night.
The diversity of participants and supporters illustrates the growing collaboration among all races and sectors in the enjoyment and protection of our national parks and great out-door spaces.
They include Outdoor Afro, whose leader accepted the National Wildlife Federation’s Communications Award alongside President Clinton April 30; the National Parks Conservation Association; the Petermans’ Earthwise Productions; the City of Los Banos where the Buffalo Soldiers camped on Day 7 of their 16-day ride up to Sequoia; the Texas Buffalo Soldier Association and the Buffalo Soldiers’ Motorcycle Club.
For more information contact Ms. Baker, Tmbaker1165@gmail.com, or Audrey@legacyontheland.com.