GLENMONT, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The Buffalo Soldiers were some of the Army’s bravest fighters, yet historically, the most unsung. Reverend Robert Dixon, 100, is believed to be the last of the Buffalo Soldiers who served at West Point. He now lives in the Capital Region.
The all-Black cavalry regiments were established after the Civil War. Their nickname was coined by their Native American foes during America’s westward expansion. The warriors, who were impressed by the Black soldiers fighting prowess, are thought to have been referring to their curly hair which may have resembled buffalo hide or their buffalo skin coats
Lt. Col. Rick Black, Assistant Professor of History at West Point, says the Buffalo Soldiers took it “as a badge of pride.” During conflicts and wars, the segregated regiments served with distinction and were best known for their horsemanship.
The Buffalo Soldiers served at the United States Military Academy at West Point from 1907 to 1946. During WWII, their main focus was to train the mostly white group of cadets in horsemanship. Lt. Col. Black says they were seen as both separate and certainly not equal. “And I think the other phrase that works for this, out of sight, out of mind,” he added.
Everyone thought all the Buffalo Soldiers who had served at West Point had passed away. But 90 miles north in Glenmont, Georgia Dixon knew better. “Based on what I know, he is the only known living Buffalo Soldier. Yes,” said Georgia Dixon.
Mrs. Dixon is talking about her husband, Reverend Robert Dixon. Reverend Dixon was raised in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen and enlisted in the Army in 1941. The young man from the city was sent to West Point to be one of their trainers. When asked if he had ever had training with horses before he said no. He went on to say that not only was he teaching cadets, but he was also teaching himself as well.
Robert Dixon served his country for five years, earning several honors which were only very recently awarded to him. Reverend Dixon went on to say that he felt under immense pressure to prove himself more than his white counterparts.
Segregation in the armed forces ended on paper in 1948 but that didn’t mean the racism did as well. Yet, Dixon and others paved the way for future generations of soldiers like West Point Cadet Kennedy Warren.
“They really saw beyond themselves and what it means to adhere to your duty. And I believe that they had faith that people like us in the future would honor their legacy,” said Cadet Warren.
Robert Dixon’s legacy also includes his fight against racial injustice. His wife points to photographs of her husband getting arrested during an anti-apartheid protest. She laughed saying he was “smiling all the way” as he was taken by officers to the paddy wagon.
He was also the founder of the Albany Police Review board as well as a longtime pastor at Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Albany for 36 years. After turning 100 in September, the possibly last of the West Point Buffalo Soldiers said it’s all been an honor he carries with him to this very day.
“It’s a great honor. And to know that you have experienced so much,” said Dixon.
A monument in honor of the Buffalo Soldiers of West Point was erected this past fall in Buffalo Soldiers Field at West Point. It was donated by the Buffalo Soldiers Association of West Point, whose members include their descendants hoping to ensure that their ancestors receive the recognition they justly deserve.
Photos from the statue and unveiling ceremony are courtesy of Mamisi Gordon and professional photographer John Nelson.