The nation’s largest repository of African American military memorabilia began as the personal collection of Paul Matthews, a retired Army captain who converted an old house on Southmore and opened his museum in 2001. Relocated to Midtown’s old Houston Light Guard Armory building 11 years later, the collection now numbers in the thousands of artifacts—anything from weapons, uniforms, and medals to artwork and astronaut gear—and donations pour in from all over the world. “All of our items have the best stories,” laughs Matthews’s grandson, museum CEO Desmond Bertrand-Pitts, “because everything that we have has a story attached to it.”
1. Oldest: Slave Letter
Dated August 1865, this letter from a freed slave named Jourdan replies to a request to resume working for his former owner, Col. P.H. Anderson of Big Spring, Tennessee. Now thriving in Dayton, Ohio, Jourdan will consider it, he allows, provided Anderson promises to guarantee his family’s safety and pay him the wages Jourdan should have accrued during his servitude—a grand total of $11,680, he figures. He closes the letter by asking the colonel to say “howdy” to a man named George Carter, “and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.”
2. Most Valuable: The Old Soldier
Cast by Lubbock-based sculptor Eddie Dixon, this bronze bust depicts First Sgt. Moses Williams of the 9th Cavalry, one of the all-black U.S. Army regiments created after the Civil War that quickly earned the nickname “Buffalo Soldiers.” According to Bertrand-Pitts, Matthews begins each museum tour with the bust, which he calls his grandfather’s “prize possession.”
3. Most Unique: Mardi Gras costume
The ornate beadwork of this traditional Mardi Gras costume (“very heavy,” notes Bertrand-Pitts) depicts various aspects of Buffalo Soldier culture, including the soldiers’ uncanny kinship with their purported Native American enemies. Bertrand-Pitts confesses that he favors this piece because he personally convinced the artist, New Orleans–based Michael Dow Edwards, to donate it to the museum—unless Edwards needs it for a performance. “He actually hasn’t had to do that yet,” says the CEO.
Buffalo Soldiers National Museum. 3816 Caroline St. 713-942-8920. buffalosoldiermuseum.com