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Recreating black history
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Several Newton County Schools closed Black History Month with presentations and events Friday.

Members of the Greater Atlanta Chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers came to Porterdale Elementary School Friday morning to tell students about the often forgotten black members of the 19th and 20th Century United States Army.

Trooper Bruce Milligan explained to the students how the Buffalo Soldiers came to be.

He said after slavery was abolished in the mid-1800's black men and women had a hard time finding work.

"The military paid them $13 a month and that was a lot of money back then," Milligan said.

Eventually legislation was passed creating all-black cavalry regiments the 9th, 10th, 24th and 25th. The regiments served in the Civil War and then were sent to the western frontier.

"Part of their jobs were to protect stagecoaches, build and guard the railroad and lay telegraph wire over miles and miles of rough and rugged terrain," Milligan said.

They battled American Indians and cowboy outlaws and Milligan gave them credit for assisting the expansion of the country's population toward the Pacific Coast.

Milligan said their equipment and horses were often used and outdated.

"However, they maintained and did what they had to do," Milligan said, "and they became famous for it."

According to Milligan, the Buffalo Soldiers received their name from American Indians who had never encountered black people before.

"They said, 'we met a different type of soldier and these soldiers had war paint that did not come off,'" Milligan said.

He said they also received the name because of their courageousness and tenacity in battle when backed into a tight spot, much like the behavior of a raging bull buffalo.

Corporal Frenchie Sharpe explained how a woman disguised herself as a man to serve as the first female Buffalo soldier in the 38th U.S. infantry division in 1866.

Cathay Williams was a former slave and worked as a servant for a Union general during the Civil War where she learned much about the life of a soldier.

Because of the good pay of a soldier, she decided to flip her nam and enlist as William Cathay.

She served for two years with no one knowing her true identity until she became sick with small pox and after a mutiny at Fort Cummings, decided she did not want to be a soldier anymore.

According to Sharpe, Williams went to a hospital for treatment of weakness while recovering from small pox and it was soon discovered she was a woman.

On Oct. 14, 1868, she was honorably discharged as William Cathay.

"The more I read her history the more she becomes a hero to me," Sharpe said.

Milligan also discussed the last living original Buffalo Soldier, Mark Matthews, who died in 2005. He was 113 when he died.

The Greater Atlanta Chapter of Buffalo Soldiers joined members from chapters in 23 other states to lay a wreath on Matthews's grave at Arlington National Cemetery.

He said many of today's Buffalo Soldiers are descendents of the original soldiers who served before the military was integrated in 1951. He said today they present lectures, ride in parades and perform in rodeos. The chapter will host a rodeo in August at the Conyers Horse Park.

"What we try to do as modern day Buffalo Soldier's," Milligan said, "is we try to educate children and adults about Buffalo Soldiers and other important black Americans."

Many other schools created living "black wax museums" on Friday.

Students in Kandice Thomas-Crockett's class at Clements Middle School struck poses as wax characters, did spoken-word performances or wrote and performed original skits.

"They had to do the research," Thomas-Crockett said. "I didn't give them anything and they had to be able to take the third person research and turn it into a first person presentation."

Figures chosen for the wax museum ranged from sports figures to entertainers to religious leaders.

Skits included the cultural and philanthropic contributions of Oprah Wynfrey, the history of black musicians and the beginning of Madame C.J. Walker's successful line of beauty products designed for black women, which eventually made her what is considered the first self-made female millionaire.

The students performed for other classes during the month and performed at Clements' first Parent Night.