America’s National Parks function as backdrops for millions of stories every year. But if not for the efforts of a small group of African-American men and women, accessibility to those backdrops might not exist today.
Black soldiers were first tasked with patrolling Yosemite, Sequoia and General Grant (Kings Canyon) National Park nearly 20 years before 1916 when the National Park Service was established. These soldiers were known as the Buffalo Soldiers, an African-American cavalry initially tasked with battling Native Americans during the westward expansion.
Little credit is given today to the troops that fought back loggers, poachers, and trespassers during the establishment of the National Parks. But they should be. These individuals performed sometimes dangerous work in an era when speaking authoritatively to Caucasians could lead to your lynching. The only visible tribute to the soldiers’ contributions is seen with Smokey Bear’s hat, which is modeled after the ones worn by the Buffalo Soldiers.
TravelCoterie’s Kevin Frazier explains some of the other ways soldiers helped in establishing the National Parks in the video above.