June 29th, 2009
Vintage reprint article, St. Petersburg Independent, 9/5/69
Yaphet Kotto has known about the Buffalo Soldiers since he was a youth.
“I saw an open album in my father’s bedroom with a clipping, yellow from age, like something out of a Sunday supplement,” he said. “It looked like a picture of a black U.S. Cavalry soldier. It struck me as funny. I laughed. I thought, ‘What is this?’ ”
Now he knows. What’s more, he portrays the leader of the Negro troopers in “The Buffalo Soldiers” on “The High Chaparral,” repeat colorcast on Channel 8 tonight at 7:30.
Recalling the incident, Kotto said, “May father came in. It was one of the first times that my father talked to me about this. He said it wasn’t funny. I’ll never forget his eyes. They were like wild. I had never seen blacks pictured this way in the history books. I didn’t believe him. I created a conflict between us. He kept telling me those soldiers were black. He was trying to educate me. He was quite a reader – he read all the time. He was always turning some profound thing over in his mind.”
Kotto found out, in time, that his father was right. The 10th Cavalry, an all-Negro unit, was first organized in July 1866. It patrolled the borders, participated in Indian campaigns, and helped tame and maintain the West. The term, “Buffalo Soldier,” was a nickname bestowed by the Apaches. One hundred years later, in 1966, an equestrian organization was formed, consisting of 35 members, modeled after the original outfit. They portray the historic unit in tonight’s “High Chaparral” episode.
“I was pleased about this role,” says Kotto, “Because I’ve never played a leader before. Also, this gave me an opportunity to play a historical character, a hero that was real.”
Of the kids today, Kotto said, “They’re in a different position than I was. They’re willing to accept any handle on history that they claim. They want to know who they are.”
He had dramatic evidence of this from the kids in Watts that he works with: “When they heard I was doing ‘The Buffalo Soldiers,’ I received about 50 phone calls from them. When I started rehearsing with the equestrian unit, 700 kids came across town to watch.”
Yaphet Kotto as Sgt. Major Creason in
The Buffalo Soldiers