Fighting for survival

Stanford L. Davis

Photo By Larry Dalton

Freelance historian Stanford L. Davis has spun a curiosity about his family’s history into a nationally recognized Web site about the Buffalo Soldiers—all-black cavalry units enlisted after the Civil War to help subdue the West. Though his site is a popular Internet destination, it was difficult for Davis to complete. He wrote it three times to make sure that it was unbiased without offending either American Indians, whom he felt were mistreated by the Buffalo Soldiers, or African-Americans, who took pride in the Buffalo Soldiers’ commitment to the U.S. Army.

You have a Web site?

I have a Web site: Initially, my idea was just to put one page up on my grandfather, who was in the Civil War. Then, I got more information on my great-grandfather. He was in the Buffalo Soldiers. I contacted Mary Williams at Fort Davis [in Texas]. She was one of the rangers there. She said, “Well, I’ll look and see what I can find on your great-grandfather.” That’s Henry Parker. She sent me an envelope that detailed for 10 years what his regiment did, where they went and everything.

What years?

From 1866 to 1877. When I looked at that, I thought, “I wonder what happened,” you know, “on May the 5th, 1868.” So, I started putting together what happened on these various dates.

Do you have artifacts from your great-grandfather?

I have hundreds of pages, documents and things like that. Copies—nothing original. That’s one of the problems. My father, his family broke up when he was 7 years old. He was in an orphanage until he was 18. He went on and made his mark in life, but he hadn’t come in contact with other family members until 1956, when he ran into his sister back in Ohio. She didn’t have any real information on the father and the mother, so it just kind of died there. My father’s deceased now, but about nine years ago, my oldest daughter said, “We need to find out just what’s going on.”

How did you know you had a Buffalo Soldier in your history?

My grandfather was in the Civil War. When I got his papers, it indicated that his father was Henry Parker. And I said, “OK, I’ll ask for Henry Parker’s papers.” And I received about a hundred pages. But I still don’t know what happened to my relatives from like 1910 to the present. I’m still looking.

You don’t know how your family got to California?

I know how my father got here. He was at the Hampton Institute, where Booker T. Washington taught, and World War II came along, and the government needed workers, and so they started recruiting blacks. Well, in 1945, my father took advantage of the opportunity to come out here and work at the shipyards in Richmond, and so he was part of that huge exodus. My father was in charge of the recreation program that they finally decided to let blacks have. He had his own radio shop. He had a TV shop. He sold real estate. … Because my father had some university behind him, his personality was such that he could communicate with anyone. Race had nothing to do with anything. So, I never remembered any kind of racism. The only thing I did notice was that every week we had a movie, you know, The Alamo, John Wayne, Randolph Scott. … The only thing I noticed was that in all the movies, there were never any black people.

Besides the family connection, what about the Buffalo Soldiers interested you?

As the years went by, I heard about the Buffalo Soldiers, and I began to think, “Well, you know, they helped win the West. They fought the Native Americans. They protected some stage coaches. That’s a prideful thing.” When I found out that my great-grandfather was a Buffalo Soldier, then I really took a look at what they were all about. And I really had misgivings. Here they were putting down Native Americans who had their own homelands, and here my great-grandfather, who was an ex-slave, was usurping their rights, taking their land, moving them off the reservations. … I went on and said, “I’m going to tell exactly what happened, be as unbiased as possible.” And it has proven to be the right thing to do. There are a number of Indian sites linked to my site.

What do you know about your grandfather’s activities?

My grandfather was an ex-slave. He was in Missouri. Coming out of slavery, not having a lot of responsibility. … When he went into the service, he was kind of sloppy. He lost things. He’d lose his canteen—stuff like that. I have the paperwork showing that he was billed for these various things. … They were poor after he got out of the service. He was just a laborer, like many of the other ex-slaves and military men. Life was hard, very hard with no trade and no skills. But that’s a big question. What was his life like? What happened? Where are the relatives? I’m still looking.