(March 1, 2023)—On the last weekend of Black History Month, l drove a road I know well but hadn’t traveled since COVID—the road to Camp Naco.
There was an Open House to celebrate Black History Month and to mark grant awards to the City of Bisbee and Naco Heritage Alliance totaling $8.1 million. The funders are the State of Arizona and the Mellon Foundation for building restoration and program development.
It was powerful to see the diversity in Saturday’s audience. There were locals, historic preservationists, and a sizable gathering of Buffalo Soldier descendants and other African American residents of southern Arizona. Brooks Jeffery of the Naco Heritage Alliance (NHA) was program emcee, and Becky Orozco (NHA co-founder) recounted highlights of the Camp Naco story. Bisbee Mayor Ken Budge emphasized the theme of tenacity while conveying Bisbee’s commitment to success. Christina Morris of the National Trust for Historic Preservation highlighted the dramatic and positive effect listing Camp Naco as one of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places for 2022 has had on the camp’s future.
Charles Hancock, President of the Southwest Association of Buffalo Soldiers, gave the keynote address. He spoke to the theme of this year’s Black History Month: Black Resistance. He acknowledged the racism experienced by African American soldiers, and he consistently underscored his theme: “Black History is American History, and American History is Black History. The two are inextricably intertwined. You can’t have one without the other.”
It was a fitting launch to Camp Naco’s mission going forward. In a written message, Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs said, “I look forward to visiting Camp Naco in the near future to witness the transformation of the site into a vibrant community center and destination for arts and culture in southern Arizona.”
And the Mellon Foundation wrote that “Mellon deeply believes this is an important site for building understanding of the layered and often collective histories we share, must remember, and must continue to learn from.”
Brooks Jeffery’s closing remarks also underscored these themes: “Charles Hancock mentioned—The various regiments that were here—each one of them had a motto to them—and many of them were inspiring for all of the troops that were here. I would like to officially adopt one of those mottos. It was for the 25th Infantry Regiment. The motto was ‘Onward!’ Let’s move onward.”