Frequently overlooked during Black History Month are the Buffalo Soldiers, six all-black U.S. Army regiments each with 1,000 men established by Congress in 1866 to help rebuild the country after the Civil War and to patrol the nation’s remote western frontier.
According to legend, Native Americans called the troops Buffalo Soldiers because of their dark curly hair, which resembled the buffalo’s coat. Conscious of the buffalo’s fearlessness and fighting spirit, the African-American troops embraced the name with pride and honor. The Buffalo Soldiers’ duties included protecting settlers, building forts and roads, and mapping uncharted territory as the U.S. continued its westward expansion.
In South Florida, a new group of Buffalo Soldiers honors their military ancestors by riding “iron horses” and serving their community. The modern, progressive Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club pays tribute to the original Buffalo Soldiers by promoting a positive image, said Miami chapter President Robert “Kruz ‘N’ ” Garland, a 29-year police veteran who serves as the Miami-Dade Commission’s sergeant-at-arms.
“In the Civil War, there were over 200,000 black soldiers, most whom were part of the Buffalo Soldiers, who helped build this country, and we try to pay homage to that,” Garland said.
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Buffalo Soldiers has over 125 chapters nationwide, including Hawaii and Puerto Rico, with an international chapter in South Korea. The Miami chapter was established in September 2006. Its membership of 23 resides from Fort Lauderdale and Miami to Homestead and the Keys.
The Buffalo Soldiers are keen to represent themselves in a positive manner in all of their activities. Most of their members are professionals in the police and public-service sectors, and several of them have military backgrounds.
The club prides itself in fostering a family-oriented feel for its members. The various Buffalo Soldiers chapters remain well connected and also embrace the sense of family.
“There are Buffalo Soldiers everywhere,” said Garland’s wife, Kathy “Dark N’Lovely” Garland, the club treasurer and a retired Miami-Dade police lieutenant. “We have a son who is in South Korea, and there’s a Buffalo Soldier chapter over there. We reached out to them and asked to look after him, and they did.”
For Buffalo Soldiers worldwide, there is a genuine sense of fellowship and camaraderie, fundamental components of the club.
Long motorcycle rides characterize the modern Buffalo Soldiers, much like the long rides their ancestors made while journeying through the Old West.
“It is not uncommon for us to ride as a unit to North or South Carolina on a Friday and come back on Sunday night,” Garland said.
When together, the Soldiers are decorated in their signature black-and-yellow attire, a mixture of leather and denim jackets that display their many different patches, the most important being the “Buffalo Soldier” logo emblazoned on their backs.
“Most people we meet on the road think we come from Buffalo, New York,” Garland said, laughing. “I like it because it gives me an opportunity to teach others about the heritage of our ancestors.”
The Soldiers are involved throughout South Florida. In 2011, the club set up the Barry Jennings Scholarship, in memory of Jennings, a Soldier who dedicated his life to counseling and empowering young adults to focus on their futures. The scholarship awards $500 yearly to one male and one female student of African-American descent who attend schools in the Miami-Dade Public Schools district. Teachers also receive help from the Soldiers, through the Better Schools Program, a program dedicated to providing school supplies to school employees affected by school budget cuts.
Soldiers also participate in the annual Relay for Life cancer fundraiser, as well as holiday food drives.
If you go
What: Buffalo Soldiers fundraising bowling tournament
Where: Sparez Bowling, 5325 S. University Dr., Davie
When: Noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 15
Cost: $20. Purchase tickets at bsmcmiamifl.com.