It is a fact that the Presidio of San Francisco was a military installation for over 218 years of its 223 years. One does not need to be a rocket scientist to figure this out. It is also a fact that there are 455 Buffalo Soldiers buried at the Veterans Cemetery right in the middle of the Presidio of San Francisco.
It has been a problem with the National Park Service (NPS) to come to terms with the black soldiers, the black military history, the black contribution to the Presidio of San Francisco and most of all, the black Buffalo Soldiers. The same can be said of the National Park Association (NPA) the sister for profit organization of the NPS.
The National Park Service was formed in 1916. Decades before this date the Buffalo Soldiers took care of all the Federal Lands and were instrumental in looking after all of the prestigious National Parks here in California. In fact the first Standard Operating Procedures to operate the National Parks in California were written by Buffalo Soldiers.
The quasi governmental agency called the Trust who have jurisdiction of the Presidio of San Francisco, follows more or less the same philosophy of the NPS and NPA. If one confronts them with facts pertaining to the Buffalo Soldiers these three entities will be quick to reply that they totally agree that something has to be done. The minute you turn your back, they will forget the promises made and do everything within their power to stop any recognition of the Buffalo Soldiers.
The Presidio of San Francisco was privileged to have the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry live and work at the Presidio of San Francisco. A distinction that the Presidio should be very proud of. This history is not known to many. This history is important because it is linked to many a place, what we call the Pacific Rim Nations, Alaska, Burma, Europe, Cuba, the Middle East and all over the world.
It is a fact that the Buffalo Soldiers were sent where no one else dared to go. The were instrumental in building roads in Alaska and Burma, projects that baffled engineers and military officers specializing in logistics. These men were great. Desegregated in World War II they rescued thousands in Europe.
Right now, in the Fort Scott Area you have building 682 also known as the Religious Activity Center. This building and the Buffalo Soldiers go hand in glove. The NPS, the NPA, and the Trust have done nothing to preserve this building. In the last 5 years this building has been left to go in disrepair. This is a crime.
By the Lombard gate buildings 572, 569, 566, and 563 stand all alone. At one time the NPS wanted to demolish these buildings. In fact even though they were marked as historic buildings building 566 was inflicted with willful damage. When questioned why the walls and the ceiling were damaged no one would assume responsibility. This matter was brought to the attention to the U.S. Park Police, the Chief of Maintenance, and the head of the Real Estate and Property Management in 1998.
The San Francisco Examiner published a front page article dated April 3, 1998 and this publicity coupled with the Editorial in the following Sunday newspaper saved the buildings from total destruction. Since, I was mentioned in the paper the NPS initiated legal action against me challenging my first amendment rights. This matter will go to court for adjudication.
The Trust, the NPS and the NPA have no problem praising General Pershing. Right by the Officers Club stands Pershing Square and the tallest flag pole on the Presidio. A few yards away stands Pershing Guest House and all over the Presidio are streets and other monuments named after white soldiers and officers.
The paradox is while General Pershing was alive everyone called him Black Jack. He commanded his favorite black soldiers and they were the famed Buffalo Soldiers.
To day at the Presidio there is not one single street named after the Buffalo Soldiers. Not one building nor one single monument outside the Veterans Cemetery that honors the Buffalo Soldiers.
The NPS is in the business of protection, preservation and interpretation. In this case they have done a lousy job and should feel ashamed of themselves. The Trust is trying to understand the issue at hand, but they too feel that they have to follow in the foot steps of the NPS and the NPA.
Recently, the NPS tried to create a small exhibit in honor of the Buffalo Soldiers. They chose building 661 the United States Park Police Horse Stables to erect this small exhibit. One look at this exhibit and one wonders why the NPS should even exist on the Presidio. The exhibit is a poor sight and tells on the inferior standards and the competence of the NPS.
Even before this exhibit was erected the NPS was advised that they should approach Anthony Powell to erect an excellent exhibit. Anthony Powell is an expert on matters pertaining to the history of the Buffalo Soldiers. The NPS approached Anthony Powell for photographs and he kindly gave them the best he had and bent backwards and gave them negatives of his price photographs. He also requested them to give him credit.
As mentioned this exhibit is very poor in design and taste. The NPS and the NPA did not give credit to Anthony Powell as promised and as usual do not care about simple courtesy and etiquette.
We have formed the Buffalo Soldiers Committee and are determined to have a permanent Buffalo Soldiers Museum at the Presidio of San Francisco. We have submitted our proposal, met several times with the Trust and are on the verge of sitting with them come June 23, 1999 to chalk out a plan of action.
If everything goes well building 2 will indeed be a permanent Buffalo Soldiers Museum and a first class museum at that. It will house hundreds of priced Buffalo Soldiers photographs and other priced memorabilia that Anthony Powell has been collecting for the past many decades.
Anthony Powell has an exhibit that is touring the States and has even toured abroad. He has everything in place. He has as a matter of fact worked in building 2 for over 15 years. Building 2 used to be the old hospital and the Army restored it to house the Army museum for decades.
Today, the NPS has let the museum go downhill and what little has been left will be moved to building 102 by the NPS the home of the future NPS museum.
Today, building 2 comes under the jurisdiction of the Trust. The Trust should feel proud that they have a client that is willing to house a first class museum without any expense to the Trust and the tax payer.
The final proposal handed over to the Trust calls for a plan where the upkeep and remodeling of the building will be borne by Anthony Powell. After five years or so the Trust will begin receiving rent and after 10 years the museum as well as the Trust will be in business. A win win plan that does not need too much deliberation.
Yet, there has been a lot of back and forth. Recently, we told the Trust in no uncertain terms that we had to sit down and make a decision. The Trust has stated again and again that they would like the Buffalo Soldiers museum to be at the Presidio of San Francisco, yet they will not commit themselves to a fixed plan of action.
Come June 23, 1999 we hope we will bring about a change of heart. We hope the spirit of the Buffalo Soldiers will bring about a change of heart. We hope that the 455 Buffalo Soldiers lying at the Veterans Cemetery will be honored in a way that they ought to have decades ago. We hope to have a permanent Buffalo Soldiers Museum.
Before the year 2000 we should have everything in place. In the year 2000 we should be able to say aloud and clear, that the wrong has been righted. The Buffalo Soldiers museum is here to stay. Just like we have Pershing Square to honor Black Jack, the black soldiers, the Buffalo Soldiers have a place they and all of us can be proud of - a museum of our own the Buffalo Soldiers Museum. This dream will be a reality.