Many people today have heard of the famous African American Buffalo Soldiers, but did you know that the Buffalo Soldiers were based here in Minnesota during the 1880s?
This photograph, part of Hennepin History Museum’s archival collection, shows a group of men from the 25th U.S. Infantry. The 25th Infantry was an African American regiment then based out of Fort Snelling. These soldiers were among the “Buffalo Soldiers,” a term referring to the United States’ segregated African American Army regiments. The soldiers shown here were musicians and NCOs (non-commissioned officers).
Army historians describe the time spent at Fort Snelling as “the most uneventful in the regiment’s history,” and suggest “the soldiers probably spent more time practicing, drilling, and parading than ever before.” Meanwhile, in contrast, Hennepin County was changing rapidly around the Fort; the city of Minneapolis was one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation during this period, and the downtown skyline was changing and expanding rapidly.
In 1888, the 25th was transferred from the the Minnesota to Montana.
In July 1948, President Truman signed Executive Order 9981 mandating the integration of the armed forces and promising “equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.”
Historic Fort Snelling
“Buffalo Soldiers.” HistoryNet
Executive Order 9981
U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, A Historic Context for the African American Military Experience. 1998.
In the late 1800s, Hennepin County was home to a population of African Americans who had moved north to find opportunity after the Civil War, along with those who had escaped slavery via the Underground Railroad. While many traveled north to Canada, some remained in Minnesota. Ellen and Beverly Yancey were a couple that settled in Edina and began developing close ties to the community, becoming involved in local politics and the church. Mae, one of their children, later studied at the University of Minnesota and played organ for the Episcopal congregation.
This week’s object is a geology book that once belonged to another one of Ellen and Beverly’s daughters, Maggie, in 1881. When Maggie owned this book, black families like the Yanceys lived and attended school alongside white families in Edina and Minneapolis. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that restrictive racial covenants began forcing Edina’s black community to move to other parts of the Twin Cities. Because these black families did not own the land they lived on, the residential districts created were able to effectively force them out. Edina was not alone in developing racial covenants designed to create segregation, and African Americans often struggled to find adequate housing and land without facing backlash from white citizens who feared their property values would decrease if their neighborhoods were integrated.
This book owned by Maggie Yancey serves as an important connection between Hennepin county’s history and the many black pioneers and families that lived here, worked here, and—all too often—felt unwelcomed here. This book helps us recognize and honor the contributions that African Americans like Maggie Yancey and her family have made to Hennepin County despite the inequity and discrimination they have faced and continue to face today.
Written by HHM intern Caitlin Crowley. Caitlin is a current Augsburg student and comes to HHM through the Minnesota Historical Society’s ACTC extern program.