After years of planning, designing, seminars, and anticipation, the unveiling of Platform Art and Art Research Enterprises Inc.’s “Friends of Freedom” memorial is scheduled for Sat., Nov. 12 at 10 a.m. in Veterans’ Memorial Park on Lake Beulah Drive.
The 7-ft bronze statue will commemorate The Buffalo Soldiers, an all-Black regiment of the Spanish War known for camping on the shores of Lake Wire. Now that our calendars are marked, we’re taking a moment to look deeper into the regiment’s history + presence in Lakeland.
The “Friends of Freedom” monument will depict seven cavalrymen and their horses, as well as scenes by Polk County student artists. | Image via Platform Art and Art Research Enterprises Inc.
Who were The Buffalo Soldiers?
Following the Civil War, six all-Black cavalry + infantry regiments were established when Congress passed the Army Organization Act in 1866, and they came to be called The Buffalo Soldiers. Eventually, the six were consolidated into four: the 9th U.S. Cavalry, 10th U.S. Cavalry, 24th U.S. Infantry, and 25th U.S. Infantry.
In 1898, the 10th cavalry was awaiting transport to Cuba at the start of the Spanish American War. Their campsite may be more familiar than you’d expect: The shores of Lakeland’s own Lake Wire. Pro tip: You can find a plaque marking the regiment’s campsite on the north side of the lake.
Apart from their efforts in the war, The Buffalo Soldiers became some of the country’s first national park rangers. They were responsible for protecting wildlife from poachers, constructing new roads, and stopping privately-owned livestock from grazing on national park land.
What will the memorial look like?
Becky Ault, a nationally-recognized artist with Art Research Enterprises Inc., designed the monument’s centerpiece. Atop the pedestal, seven cavalrymen and their horses stand shoulder to shoulder. The bronze pedestal will feature scenes designed by Polk County art students from Lake Region High School and Santa Fe Catholic High School.
Now that you know your history, attend the unveiling of the “Friends of Freedom” memorial over Veterans Day weekend. The Buffalo Soldiers of Florida will present the colors, and Buffalo Soldier Motorcycle Chapters from various Florida cities may also be in attendance.
Once installed, “Friends of Freedom” will be one of the country’s only monuments of the Spanish-American war. Even fewer exist commemorating The Buffalo Soldiers.