Tidewater Women’s Fran Ward recently interviewed Ken Wright, who is a nationally acclaimed artist and president of the Buffalo Riders of Hampton Roads. Buffalo Soldier, a drama about the last surviving Buffalo Soldier and longest living veteran from the Spanish American War, will be presented Jan. 25 at 11:00 a.m. & 2:00 p.m. at The American Theatre, 125 East Mellen St., Hampton. Visit www.hamptonarts.net or call 757.722.2787.
Tidewater Women (TW): Ken, tell the readers about the Buffalo Soldiers. Who are they?
Ken Wright (KW): Buffalo Soldiers originally were members of the 10th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army, formed in 1866 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
TW: Why were they called “Buffalo Soldiers?”
KW: Could be for a few reasons. Some say the nickname was given to the “Negro Cavalry” by Native American tribes. Comanches and Apaches both said: “We called them ‘buffalo soldiers’ because they had curly, kinky hair...like bisons.” Some say the nickname was given out of respect for their fierce fighting ability. “Buffalo Soldiers” came to stand for all African-American soldiers.
TW: When were they in action?
KW: African-Americans have served in every American war during and since the Civil War. During the Civil War, the U.S. government formed regiments of black soldiers known as the United States Colored Troops. (This was before the term “African-American” was used.) In 1868, Congress reorganized the Army and authorized two regiments of black cavalry and four Infantry Regiments (Colored). Black soldiers enlisted for five years and received $13 a month, which is more than they could have earned in civilian life. All the United States Colored Troops regiments were called Buffalo Soldiers.
TW: So, where were they stationed?
KW: The black regiments all served west of the Mississippi following the Civil War at a variety of frontier posts in the Southwest and in the Great Plains.
TW: What did Buffalo Soldiers do?
KW: Mainly support westward expansion by protecting settlers moving West, building roads, escorting the U.S. Mail and so on.
TW: Those were the Buffalo Soldiers. Who are the Buffalo Riders of Hampton Roads?
KW: We’re an African-American equestrian team keeping the contributions of the Buffalo Soldiers and the Black Cowboys of the Old West alive. We give talks, have pony rides for kids, and hold the Buffalo Riders Parade of Horses, an annual 8-mile parade in Portsmouth (this year February15, 2014) honoring the Buffalo Soldiers and the Black Cowboys of the Old West.
TW: What’s the Buffalo Riders’ role in Buffalo Soldier at The American Theatre?
KW: Some of the members will make a special appearance at each show and talk about Buffalo Soldiers and about the only female Buffalo Soldier.
TW: Tell us about her.
KW: Cathay Williams was an American soldier. She was the first African-American female to enlist in the Army! Posing as a man with the name William Cathay, she was found out to be a woman when she went for medical attention. She was relieved of duty but given an honorary discharge.
TW: I want to know more about that brave woman! Ken, tell us about your art and where it is on display? I want to know more about that, too!
KW: I have a series of paintings honoring the spirit of the Buffalo Soldiers that’ll be on display in the American Theatre art gallery January 25th. I also have an exhibition at the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in Portsmouth beginning January 11th and lasting three months.
TW: Finally, Ken, what would you like the readers of Tidewater Women to know?
KW: Two things. One, the service of the Buffalo Soldiers has earned them an honored place in U.S. history. Throughout American history, the Buffalo Soldiers distinguished themselves and became some of the most decorated U.S. military regiments of all time.
TW: And second?
KW: A lesson from Cathay Williams She is a prime example of what I believe: That regardless of gender, if you have a dream and the determination to achieve it, you can make it happen. You have to believe it. And have faith in God.
TW: Ken, thanks for sharing your passion with Tidewater Women.