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2017-06-14 / Columnists

North of the Village Green

Remembering the Brownsville Affair & The Buffalo Soldiers - Part 1
by Sandi Brewster-walker

Men of color from Bay Shore to Amityville can be found on the political scene as early as 1894. George W. Queen, a black man living on South Country Road, West Islip, along with others in the area remembered the Brownsville Affair, and the Buffalo Soldiers!

On Feb. 10, 1911, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle ran a story, “Colored Democrats Hopeful,” stating that a New York State Legislature Act would be passed during Governor John Alden Dix administration allowing men of color to be part of the State Militia Company. Following the Civil War, veterans of color had been excluded from the NYS Militia. In favor of the Act were 60 members of the local United Colored Democracy (UCD). Many of these men were local Civil War veterans, or their family members.

The same year, the local UCD officers were:FrankThompson (Bay Shore), president; Stephen Floyd (West Islip), vice president; James Coster (Amityville), secretary & treasurer; Augustus Floyd (Babylon), corresponding secretary; George H. Johnson, sergeant-at-arms, as well as George W. Queen, both of West Islip.


Teddy Roosevelt Teddy Roosevelt The corresponding secretary, Augustus Floyd (1855- 1925), of Babylon Village, a Native American, Augustus was the son of Elbert Floyd, Sr. (1825-1897), and his wife Caroline (1829-1908). Augustus’ siblings were: Elbert, Jr. (1851), Richard (1856), Willie (1855), and his sister Ann (1859). The Floyds lived in Babylon Village’s Native American community along with the Bunn, Green and Steele’s family members.

On Aug. 8, 1885, the South Side Signal newspaper related a story written by the Babylon correspondent of the Long Islander (Huntington) newspaper, “…a thrilling snake story, of which Elbert Floyd (colored), of Cooper Street is the hero. While wading in the West Creek on Sun., July 26, Floyd is said to have been attached by a large water snake that not only waged war upon his antagonist, but followed him to the shore. Arriving at the bank, Floyd dispatched the reptile, the length of which was four feet. We regard this as a first-class snake yarn.”


Unknown Buffalo soldier Unknown Buffalo soldier This was the same year Augustus married Marie Louisa Carpenter (1856-1920), the daughter of George Carpenter (1825) and his wife Elizabeth (1829). George, along with his brothers William (1839-1915) and Charles (1841) were veterans of the US Colored Troops (USCT).

Brother William’s obituary published in the South Side Signal stated he was “Babylon’s oldest Negro citizen, died at his home on Higbie Lane on Monday of cancer of the throat. Mr. Carpenter, whose age is given as 76 years, was born in Babylon and was the son of Foster and Nancy Carpenter. He was a veteran of the Civil War…,” as a member of the 31st Regiment, USCT with other local men.


Brownsville TX Brownsville TX The 31st Regiment was organized at Hart’s Island, N. Y., April 29, 1864, and saw service at the James River (VA) campaigns, guarded Army trains, participated in the Cold Harbor Campaign, siege operations at Petersburg and Richmond, Bermuda Front , Hatche r’s Run, Appomattox Campaign, pursuing General Lee and the surrender of Lee’s army. They also saw duty on the Rio Grande, and mustered out in Texas on Nov. 7, 1865.

William’s obituary concluded, he was survived by his widow and four children: Frederick, of New York City; Margaret (Bailey), of Brooklyn; Julia and Harry, both of Babylon. Funeral services were held at the Ebenezer Baptist Church with the Reverend Claxton officiating. Interment followed at Oakwood Cemeter y ( Bay Shore) according to the South Side Signal, Feb. 12, 1915.


Original Brownsville Civil War Soldier Request for Tombstone (back of card) Original Brownsville Civil War Soldier Request for Tombstone (back of card) In the 1880 US Federal Census, George, another brother, is listed as a laborer with his family living next door to Catherine Floyd, a house servant in Babylon. The Carpenters and other local families had first-hand knowledge of the plight of the Buffalo Soldiers; that consisted of many USCT veterans.

In 1910, when Augustus was probably getting involved in politics, he was working as a waiter in a local hotel. In the 1930 US Federal Census, Augustus was enumerated as a widower, and working as a laborer (odd jobs).

Another UCD member George W. Queen (1870) born in Maryland was enumerated with his wife Roxanna in the 1915 New York State Census. In the 1930 US Federal Census, he gave his occupation as custodian, Highway Department, which might have been a political job, since he worked for years with the United Colored Democracy (UCD). The UCD had its roots in the politics of the 1890s!

As early as May 28, 1892, the South Side Signal reported, “The NY State League of Colored Democrats met in Albany (NY).” It was the first Convention of Colored Democrats ever held in a Northern State with delegates from 15 counties, including Queens (later Nassau) and Suffolk, Six years later in 1898, the United Colored Democracy (UCD) was organized in New York.

On August 24, 1907, the South Side Signal reported that “A joint testimonial benefit and reception will be tendered for George W. Queen by the pastor, officers and members of the Bethel AME Church and the Bay Shore Fountain No. 2338, United Order of True Reformers at the church on Thursday evening of next week. Admission 15 cents. Refreshments at moderate prices.” Like other local men of color, George was becoming active in politics, as the Brownsville Affair and Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, was in the media!

Three years later, on Oct. 28, 1910, the South Side Signal announced John Richard McNeil, the UCD state organizer would be “touring Long Island, and distributing a pamphlet entitled, Remember Brownsville.” The pamphlet talked about how under the leadership of Theodore Roosevelt “when white soldiers in Ohio were proven to be murders they escaped with one fine and one man imprisoned”; however the black Buffalo Soldiers of the 25th Infantry at Brownsville were dishonorably discharged.

The local newspapers covered the Brownsville Affair of Aug. 13, 1906, since on Long Island, Sagamore Hill, in Cove Neck was the home of Theodore Roosevelt from 1885 until his death in 1919. The incident arose out of tensions between black soldiers and white citizens of Brownsville, Texas. It seems a white bartender was killed, and a Hispanic police officer wounded, local white citizens accused the soldiers of the 25th Infantry Regiment stationed at Fort Brown. “Although commanders said, the soldiers had been in the barracks all night, evidence was planted against them.”

The 25th Infantry began serving in 1866, seeing action in the American Indian Wars, Spanish– American War, and Philippine–American War. Many of the men had even served during the Civil War in the USCT. Some had been in the U.S. Army for over twenty years, and close to retirement with pensions.

Upon arriving at Fort Brown, July 28, 1906, the black soldiers were required to “follow the legal color line mandate from white citizens of Brownsville.” Even at the military base, there was separate accommodation for black and white soldiers.

As a result of the US Army inspector general’s investigation, President Theodore Roosevelt ordered the dishonorable discharge of 167 Buffalo soldiers of the 25th Infantry. These Buffalo soldiers lost their pensions after serving their country. There was no transparency in the President’s decision!

The Roosevelt Administration withheld information of the discharge of the Buffalo soldiers until after the 1906 Congressional Elections. It is believed, so that “the pro-Republican black vote would not be affected.”

Fourteen black soldiers were later reinstated into the Army; however the dishonorable discharge prevented 153 soldiers from “ever working in a military or civil service capacity,” as well as receiving a veteran’s pension. Booker T. Washington asked, President Roosevelt to reconsider his decision in the Brownsville Affair. But, Roosevelt dismissed Washington’s plea allowing his decision to stand.

According to the book, Rough Riders by Mark Lee Gardner, President Theodore Roosevelt had a “perceived attitude toward the Buffalo (Black) Soldiers. Despite his praise for the ‘Smoked Yankees’ in his farewell speech at Montauk,” he believed the black soldier was “peculiarly dependent upon their white officers.”

People of all races were outraged at the action of President Roosevelt. People of color had supported the Republican president, because of their loyalty to the party of Abraham Lincoln, and expected more of him. Some had remembered how the president had spoken out against lynching, and invited Booker T. Washington to a White House dinner.

The year George W. Queen probably got involved in politics on May 5, 1911, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote that he was a wagon driver for Edward Wells Howell, Sr., of Babylon, a local contractor and builder. The wagon had been used to pull fire apparatus to the fire at the cottage of C. F. Hubbs.

During the 1912 Election, the Democratic Party saw an opportunity to attract men of color voters, this was the beginning of a shift in voting patterns from Republican to Democrat. Part 2 will show how on Long Island, men of color were split between Republican, Democrat, and the Bull Moose political parties.

Sandi Brewster-walker is an independent historian, genealogist, freelance writer and business owner. She is the chair of the Board of Trustees and acting executive director of the Indigenous People Museum & Research Institute. She has served in President Bill Clinton’s Administration as deputy director of the Office of Communications at the United States Department of Agriculture. Readers can reach her in c/o the LI.Indiginous.people.museum@gmail.com.

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