Throughout U.S. history, Black soldiers have fought in military conflicts abroad while being denied rights at home.
It’s a contradiction that will be explored in a free public screening of the 2022 film “Buffalo Soldiers: Fighting on Two Fronts.” The show starts at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, at Willamette University’s Smullin Film Studies Theatre, 1140 State St. Admission is free.
The one-hour documentary will be followed by a discussion between director Dru Holley of Vancouver, Washington, and Zachary Stocks, executive director of the Oregon Black Pioneers, and an audience Q&A.
The film spans a range of American history, starting with the six all-Black cavalry and infantry regiments created by an 1866 act of Congress, according to a summary on the film’s website.
Black men enlisted with the promise of citizenship and, despite that promise going unfulfilled, participated in several wars including the Spanish-American War and World War II. Their work for the U.S. resulted in a complicated legacy that includes oppressing Indigenous people in the American West and abroad, according to the summary.
“The story of the Buffalo Soldiers involves historical complexities like race, class, power, colonialism, and western expansion,” said Holley in a press release.
“Typically, these stories sometimes mention African-Americans but are seldom told with African-Americans as the central characters. This film focuses on these Black men, named and nameless, who were part of this complicated history of the American West,” he said.
The screening is part of The Conversation Project at Willamette. The program highlights neglected and erased stories, according to co-founder David Gutterman, a professor.
“A lot of public discourse these days is about winning conversations, and that’s not our goal,” he said. “Our goal is to seek to enhance our understanding about complex questions.”
The Oregon Black Pioneers selected the film, and reached out to the Salem Art Association a few months ago about sponsoring the screening, along with Xfinity. The groups collaborated with Willamette University to organize Thursday’s event.
“This seemed like a perfect opportunity to work with good folks and try to be able to screen the film, which tells a really vital story of American history that’s often been neglected,” Gutterman said.
Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.
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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.