WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo Counties) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) released the following statement on the birthday of Buffalo Soldiers leader Colonel Charles Young.
“Today we commemorate the 151st birthday of Colonel Charles Young. He was the leader of the Buffalo Soldiers, who were among our very first park rangers. These U.S. cavalrymen were assigned to watch over Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks, helping to lay the groundwork so that some of our greatest wilderness could be protected forever.
“Without knowing it, many Californians have been to the very places where the Buffalo Soldiers once made camp. The Buffalo Soldiers were the Army's first peacetime all-black regiments, established by Congress in the late 1800s. In the latter half of the 19th century, the soldiers were stationed at the Presidio. Their mission was to protect lands in what would later become Sequoia and Yosemite national parks. Each May, they rode south along El Camino Real through San Mateo County, embarking on a 13-day trip covering 280 miles from San Francisco to Yosemite. The trek to Sequoia spanned 320 miles and took 16 days.
“These soldiers were true pioneers. They blazed trails, built roads, and protected lands for visitors. They helped make the dream of our national parks a reality. More than 100 years later, one of the roads they built is still in use as a Sequoia National Park hiking trail.
“We are proud that the Buffalo Soldiers traveled through the Bay Area, and proud that our legislation, the Buffalo Soldiers in the National Parks Study Act, recently became law when we included it in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. Our bill instructs the National Park Service to study and commemorate the Buffalo Soldiers' legacy in our parks. Creating a national historic trail that marks the route traveled by the Buffalo Soldiers is an excellent place to begin acknowledging their contributions to California and to our nation as a whole.
“All Americans, from all walks of life, would benefit from learning about this often-overlooked chapter in our history. The Buffalo Soldiers’ story is ultimately about the triumph not just of African American troops over prejudice and injustice, but the movement of our nation toward a more tolerant and courageous society.
“Happy birthday, Colonel Young, and we will continue working to ensure that your legacy is more fully incorporated into the Parks system that you and your compatriots served and protected.”