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The Last Of The Buffalo Soldier
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Buffalo Soldier
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Buffalo Soldier writes history

Retired man publishes book on role in Army integration

by Eric B. Pilgrim

"Stars and Stripes ", Wednesday, January 17, 2 001

WIESBADEN, Germany Cecil Ward White points to a picture of himself. another time in another world. The younger man sitting beside White smiles admiringly at the World War 11 veteran. He looks at White's 79 year old hands as his wrinkled, weathered black fingers find more pictures.

The two have never met before. Still, they sit talking like old friends, the pictures being brought to life for the young man.

This is White's book, his life, his spirit.

White's autobiography, titled Give Me My Spirit Back: The Last of the Buffalo Soldier, tells the story of a man who fought for a dream of racial equality long before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. walked up steps to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington and delivered his famous I Have a Dream speech, long before Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus in Alabama.

"I believe that I am the father of the Integrated Army," said White, a retired major now living near Mainz, Germany. "And I believe that my plan has led to the civil rights movement of the '60s and the rise of Dr. King."

White said his dream, his plan, began back in 193 2, at the age of 10.

White, born in Selma, Ala., in 1921, said it was at that age that he heard about four black men whom the police charged with raping two white women. A friend told him the four would probably hang, whereas four white men facing similar charges would probably walk free.

Coming from one of a very few educated black families in the United States at that time, White said he understood, even at that age, that education was the key of freedom for himself and his race.

"I felt education was most important way to combat the race problems," White said. "I felt God made education as an equalizer."

So White made a prediction that he would later believe to be a gift from God.

"I told my father that within 30 years all of this would end, that a black man would surface who would lead the charge for racial equality," White said.

Not only did he make the prediction, but White also made plans to do all he could to prepare for it. He attended and graduated from Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Ala. The he joined the Army as a second lieutenant, with an underlying goal of integrating the black man into a white man's Army. His opportunity came quickly.

It was September 1944, and the nation was embroiled in World War 11. U.S. troops were fighting tooth and nail for the liberation of Italy.

White was sent to the 92nd Infantry Division, an all-black unit known as the Buffalo Division at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. Shortly after arriving, he reported to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3 7 1 st Infantry Regiment.

The 92nd, along with another all black unit. the 93rd. was partly created by the Pentagon to provide justification for integrating the armed forces after the war. according to White. If they could fight as well as the white divisions, the military would integrate them after the war, he said. According to history, many white leaders felt the black man would throw down his weapons and run in the heat of battle.

The 92nd was considered a well-trained, highly motivated group ready for War. But after transferring to Virginia before shipping out to Italy, the Buffalo division soldiers had to wait a long time for transportation. During that long wait, White said, morale dropped.

"We received a letter from the Pentagon that said morale at the Buffalo Division was too low for them to go to war, " White said. "They gave us officers and senior [noncommissioned officers] 24 hours to find the reason why and fix it. I was concerned because [General Douglas] MacArthur had recently relieved the 93rd Division for it and was now looking at relieving us.

Some of the officers suggested the soldiers were simply sad about leaving family and friends. White knew that was not the truth, but as the newest officer in the unit he felt strong pressure to agree with them. He knew the division was a real chance at integration, maybe even the only chance.

"The Buffalo Division was our last hope," wrote White in his book. "My mind was split between telling the truth and evading it. I decided to put my life on the line by telling the truth and putting my whole situation in God's hands."

He told the others what he thought was the real reason that the soldiers were going overseas to fight for democracy, a democracy that was there for everyone but the black man. In essence, the black man was fighting for somebody else's freedom while he remained enslaved. He said they had encountered blatant segregation problems on the base, some that led to fights and extreme frustration over why they should lay down their lives for a country that didn't care.

Then he told the officers that if the Army fixed the problem inside the gates of its bases, "there would be no morale problem."

His suggestion was accepted, and overnight, the base was fully integrated. Morale soared, and in a few days the soldiers shipped out to Italy.

As the book makes clear, the rest is history. The soldiers fought bravely, defeated the enemy and helped change the Army forever. Integration of the Armed forces came shortly after the war. And a man did rise up in the '60s to lead the charge for integration of the black man into the fabric of America: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As White sat at the Wiesbaden food court, signing the younger man's copy of his book, he looked to the future, to his spirit and the spirit of others around him. White and black stood in lines together waiting for food. White and black passed through the same door to the bathroom. White and black sat together at tables throughout the court.

"The white man wasn't necessarily responsible for the black man going to America. It was God's responsibility," White said. "Blacks wouldn't have come to America if it hadn't been for God. And now, the spirit of the white man and black man are intricately tied together."

In the preface to his 185  page book, White writes that his main purpose is to show how racism prevented the armed forces from realizing the full benefit of integration and how education gave it back. Lying within the pages are his hopes of a better future for the military, America and even the world.

"My greatest hope," he said, "is to eliminate all racism in the next 50 years."