In 1908, Col. Allen Allensworth established the only town fully financed, built, and designed by all Blacks in California. Now it’s preserved as a state park.
Born in 1842, Allensworth got his freedom during the American Civil War. He served in the Navy, where he later got his calling to study theology and would become an ordained minister. In 1886, he received an appointment as chaplin of the 24th infantry where he served for 20 years, retiring in 1906. He was the first African American to reach the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Equally significant to California’s history is the group of men he spiritually led in the 24th infantry. The Buffalo soldiers were the African Americans that comprised the 9th and 10th cavalries whose main charge was to protect the Western frontier.
Their duties ranged from fighting wildfires and patrols (in places like Yosemite), capturing cattle rustlers and thieves, protecting settlers headed west, and fighting unremitting battles to secure western expansion and settlements.
Oftentimes this put them at odds with Native Americans who fought to protect their land and resisted the move to reservations. Despite the violent bouts between them, it was the Native Americans who honored the cavalries with their name.
Whether it’s from the soldier wooly hair, fierce fighting style, or the honorable conduct displayed during these encounters, the Native American deemed fit to name these men after the Buffalo, an animal they revered. Today the name, Buffalo Soldier, carries the same level of reverence and values of education, civic duty, and honor.
Today, The National Association of Buffalo Solider is a motorcycle club of working-class and retired men and women. With 3,500 members and 123 chapters including Hawaii and Seoul, South Korea, much like Colonel Allen Allensworth and his infantry, today’s initiatives are aligned with the original values.
The Buffalo Soldiers’ Oakland chapter was founded in 2014 by Gene Gilliam. He understands that “Blacks have been in every major conflict fought by the U.S., but the biggest ones are being fought in our own communities.”
The local chapter participates in backpack giveaways for youth in school, feeding the homeless, and connecting families with social workers to find housing. They also host block parties encouraging civic engagement and frequent local schools to teach core values practiced by Allensworh and his men.
Gilliam, a retired first sergeant of the U.S.-Army, served 33 years and conducted three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He joined the Buffalo Soldiers to uphold the tradition of education, civic-duty and honor. He encourages everyone to join, “men and women, we share this community, we need to share the experience of strengthening it together.”
For more information on upcoming events, membership, or community events please contact the Buffalo Soldiers local chapter at (925) 338-3156.