County dedicates Silver Spring hall to honor Buffalo Soldiers

County Executive Ike Leggett speaks in front of the Buffalo Soldiers flag. Photo by Mike Diegel.

A number of county officials, led by County Executive Ike Leggett (D) and Council President Hans Riemer (D-At Large), last night dedicated The Buffalo Soldiers Great Hall in the Silver Spring Civic Building.

The hall recognizes the Buffalo Soldiers, a segregated unit of African-Americans in the U.S. Army created by Congress after the Civil War. The group was given the nickname by Native Americans during the Indian Wars of the 19th century.

Buffalo Soldiers later went on to fight in World War I and II, as well as the Korean War. The last units were disbanded in 1951 following the Army’s integration.

About two dozen veterans were among the standing-room-only crowd in the building’s atrium, including Capt. Joseph Hairston (Ret.), a Buffalo Soldier who served in the Second World War. He and the other veterans were recognized with an ovation during the ceremony.

Riemer spoke about the educational opportunities, especially for young people, the hall would represent, reminding visitors “that these are heroes who fought in wars for freedoms they didn’t even have access to themselves [but] nevertheless, dedicated themselves to the community as a whole. It’s an important story.

“The story of who serves in the military is not always told fully, and the service in the military is a major part of the story of black people in this country,” he continued, “so dedicating this hall in this way is just tremendous recognition, and what an important time to do it.”

Also honored and recognized in a county joint proclamation was the late James Harden Daugherty, a long-time Silver Spring resident who served in World War II with the Buffalo Soldiers in the 92nd Infantry Division.

The division was a segregated combat unit when many African-Americans who served were relegated to support roles such as cooks. During his service in northern Italy, Daugherty was awarded a Bronze Star and a Combat Infantryman Badge for his actions.

After the war, Daugherty graduated from Howard University with the help of the G.I Bill, went on to an administrative career with the U.S. Public Health Service and was the first African-American elected to the county’s school board.

Daugherty began writing his story in 1947 and eventually self-published “The Buffalo Saga: A Story from World War Two U.S. Army 92nd Infantry Division known as the Buffalopians” in February 2009. A copy of his book and other memorabilia are on display in the civic building. Members of his family, including his wife Dorothy and son Derek, were present for the ceremony.

State Senator Will Smith (D-District 20), an intelligence officer in the U. S. Naval Reserve, spoke how he learned from Daugherty’s book about the history African-American military service going back to the Revolutionary War, including the Buffalo Soldiers.

“Without the work of men like [Daugherty],” Smith said, “someone in my generation would never have an opportunity to go on and serve in the military.”

Leggett, also a veteran, gave credit to Smith for spearheading the drive to recognize the Buffalo Soldiers with the dedication of the hall.

“It is an honor to dedicate this Great Hall at the Silver Spring Civic Building after the Buffalo Soldiers as we pay tribute to their important contributions to our nation and recognize the difficulties they faced in service when they returned home,” Leggett said.

“As you walk through the Buffalo Soldiers Great Hall,” Leggett said, “remember their fight for freedom abroad even when they were denied freedom here at home.”

Signs have been mounted over the four main entrances to the hall. Photo by Mike Diegel.

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