In The Steps of Esteban: Tucson's African American Heritage

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A Brief History

African American Soldiers


Unidentified soldier, 25th Infantry

Unidentified soldier, 25th Infantry
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Some of Tucson's early African American settlers came to the the Southwest as members of the 24th and 25th U.S. Infantry Regiments and 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments. All of these units were stationed at Ft. Huachuca and other southwest Arizona forts at some time. These Black regiments fought against Native American warriors the Indian Campaigns and went with General George Pershing when he rode into Mexico to fight Pancho Villa.

The Native Americans gave the nickname "Buffalo soldiers" to these soldiers. They did this because they respected the fighting ability of the Black troops. In addition to their other soldiering duties, some of these soldiers acted as scouts and others as bilingual interpreters. The first Black graduate of West Point, Lt. Henry O. Flipper, served at Ft. Huachuca. Some of Tucson's African American community today are the descendants of these soldiers.

World War II brought a fresh influx of African American soldiers to Tucson. Both Davis-Monthan Air Base and Ft. Huachuca played a role in training troops for combat duty. A USO for Black soldiers was established across from Estevan Park. Katheryn Maxwell, the wife of Dunbar School principal Morgan Maxwell, would meet the trains as an American Red Cross volunteer. She would offer coffee and doughnuts to African American soldiers. Her daughter, Kathryn Dixon explained, "In some areas the Red Cross did not serve black soldiers. My mother, in order to make sure that did not happen here, would meet the train." [Sanchez]

Soldiers were separated by race through World War II. At Davis-Monthan, the nickname given to the barracks housing Black soldiers was "Rattlesnake Gulch." After the end of the war, President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order in July 1948 ending segregation in the armed forces.

Despite the order of President Truman, Davis-Monthan remained segregated after World War II. When Master Sargeant Fred Archer was stationed at Davis-Monthan in August of 1949, he was told, "Sarge, you're gonna have trouble here!" Master Sargeant Archer had received his rank in 1943 and outranked most of the other Master Sargeants at the base. However, all African Americans were assigned to a single Squadron, whose duties included driving the garbage trucks. This was not an appropriate assignment for one of the post's top Master Sargeants! By the end of 1949, Squadron F was deactivated and Archer was assigned duties appropriate to his rank and abilities. [Sanchez]

Chaplain George W. Proleau, ca 1920
Chaplain George W. Proleau, ca 1920
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Through the years African American soldiers have demonstrated skill and courage in serving their country, Arizona Territory, and the State of Arizona. Many of these men experienced intolerance and racial discrimination during their service, yet they were still willing to place their lives in danger in times of trouble. Tucson is fortunate that so many of these men and their families and descendants have chosen to make their home in southwestern Arizona.

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