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Tales of the Buffalo Soldiers comes to Oceanside

OCEANSIDE — There are few records on the hundreds of thousands of African Americans who served during the Civil War and earned the nickname Buffalo Soldiers. 

Storyteller Victoria Burnett will share tales of the Buffalo Soldiers with story, songs and audience participation at the Civic Center Library Feb 23.

“It’s not just a passive exercise,” Burnett said. “It’s a participatory exchange. The audience will be singing, moving, answering questions. They’ll learn a couple of dances. When we finish the process they’ll have an idea of some of the experiences Buffalo Soldiers would have had.”

Buffalo Soldiers were the first African American troops in the U.S. military. They often went into battle without recognition or an official uniform.

They got their nickname from Native Americans who thought troops’ wooly hair and fierce spirit in battle resembled buffalos.

The troops embraced the nickname and added self-made Buffalo Soldier patches to their garments.

“They didn’t get the respect they should have gotten,” Burnett said. “They achieved under tremendous handicap.”

“I present their ordinariness and also their extraordinariness in character,” she added. “They were barefoot, hungry, and still believing in this country and their right to thrive.”

A couple of noted soldiers Burnett talks about during the storytelling are Willie Kennard and Cathay Williams.

Kennard was a keen marksman who earned the Congressional Medal of Honor and later became the first African American town marshal.

Williams was a woman who signed up under the name William Cathay. She served for two and a half years before she became ill and it was found out she was a woman.

More than 186,000 troops chose to continue to serve in the Army after the Civil War.

“They were responsible for making roads, trails for stage coaches,” Burnett said. “They protected Native Americans from white settlers and white settlers from Native Americans. It was a daunting job.”

Burnett said she hopes to shed light on American history and spirit.

“It’s not just an African American story unique to that time period,” she said. “We all have it in us to be extraordinary in who we are.”

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