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Buffalo Soldiers in the National Parks Study Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. SPEIER. Mr. Speaker, I thank my good friend from the Northern Mariana Islands for yielding to me.

Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening in support of my legislation, the Buffalo Soldiers in the National Parks Study Act, which will allow the Department of the Interior to study the role the Buffalo Soldiers played in defending our first national parks. This is a key step in preserving the legacy of the Army's first African American infantry and cavalry units and the contributions they made to the Nation.

This bill has passed the House under suspension of the rules twice before, once in the 111th Congress and once in the 112th Congress. I'm grateful to the many cosponsors of this legislation, as well.

Specifically, my bill would evaluate the feasibility of a National Historic Trail along the Buffalo Soldier route from their historic military post at the San Francisco Presidio to Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. The study would also identify properties that could be listed in the National Register of Historic Places or designation as National Historic Landmarks.

For several years, Buffalo Soldier regiments traveled 320 miles along this route to patrol the park lands for loggers and poachers, build new trails, and escort visitors. The Buffalo Soldiers were among our very first park rangers, a task these troops took on with pride after serving bravely in the Civil War and other campaigns.

Because of the color of their skin, the Buffalo Soldiers were all too often marginalized instead of respected for their service to the Nation, both on and off the battlefield. However, during their time protecting the parks, they not only confronted racism and discrimination--they overcame it. They became respected neighbors and friends to people living in the park regions, and they made real inroads towards racial progress that was extraordinary for their day. Although they were assigned to watch over government property for only a relatively short time, the Buffalo Soldiers helped lay the groundwork for some of our greatest wilderness to be preserved forever.

I'm proud that the Buffalo Soldiers traveled through my district on their way to the parks, and I believe this bill will help shine a light on the history they made in the great State of California and in many places across our great country.

All Americans, from all walks of life, will 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 about the movement of our Nation toward a more tolerant and courageous society. This is history that should be more fully incorporated into our parks system, and I believe it will enhance the parks experience for millions of visitors for many years to come. I thank my colleagues for supporting this bill.


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