Three black Army veterans lifted clumps of clay from the ground Friday to signal the beginning of a monument in honor of the Buffalo Soldiers who went before them.
The groundbreaking ceremony was held at the National Infantry Museum & Soldier Center's Memorial Walk of Honor, drawing about 35 people to the plot that already has been purchased for the project. Those digging shovels into the ground were retired 1st Sgt. Kerry Benton, retired Sgt. 1st Class Eddie Simon and retired Sgt. 1st Class Edward Walker III.
Retired 1st Sgt. Grady Snell Jr., founder and CEO of the Global Association of Buffalo Soldiers Recognition and Riding Club, told the audience that the U.S. Army's first black warriors were finally getting the recognition they deserved. He said the groundbreaking ceremony was held in February to recognize the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and the black abolitionist Frederick Douglass, two men who opened the door for the Buffalo Soldiers to serve their country.
"Today, change has come to Fort Benning," Snell said, while dressed in historical soldier attire. "The 24th and 25th Infantry Buffalo Soldiers' sacrifices and accomplishments will no longer be camouflaged and concealed from the public eye by a 74-year-old oversight, because God is good."
Buffalo Soldiers is the nickname for those who served in six black army units that were established through an act of Congress in 1866. The units were the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st Infantry Regiments. The four infantry regiments were later reorganized to form the 24th and 25th Infantry regiments. Some of the soldiers were stationed at Fort Benning with the 24th Infantry Regiment from 1922 to 1942. The Global Association of Buffalo Soldiers has already raised $15,000 for the monument, which will cost a total of $60,000, Snell said. The group hopes to have the monument erected by 2017.
Those gathered to witness the event included State Rep. Calvin Smyre and Elaine Gillispie, a representative for U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop. Snell told the audience that Smyre's grandfather was a Buffalo Soldier. Smyre said he would make a contribution to the project in memory of his grandfather, and also help the organization raise money.
"My grandfather, Carter Smyre Sr., served in the 24th Infantry Division, which was the 24th Infantry Regiment, the all black 24th Infantry," he said. "And when I was a kid I used to go around with him in various places around Columbus and really got to know about the 24th Infantry."
Smyre said Johnnie Warner, of the Black History Museum, called him three years ago about research that he had done on his grandfather. When he heard about the Buffalo Soldiers monument project, he called up Snell to get involved.
"I'm going to be involved in the campaign to get this done, call on friends and corporate folks to make sure that we have the necessary funds so we can get this monument and the construction of it done," he said. "And I think it would bode well for the citizens of Columbus to recognize and participate in the Buffalo Soldiers monument as we have all the other monuments here at the National Infantry Museum site."
Alva James-Johnson, 706-571-8521. Reach her on Facebook at AlvaJamesJohnsonLedger.