After years of planning, designing, seminars, and anticipation, the “Friends of Freedom” memorial by Platform Art and Art Research Enterprises Inc. was unveiled on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 10 a.m. in Veterans’ Memorial Park on Lake Beulah Drive.
The 7-ft bronze statue commemorates The Buffalo Soldiers, an all-Black regiment of the Spanish-American War known for camping on the shores of Lake Wire. We hope you’re ready to jump back in time, because we’re taking a moment to look deeper into the regiment’s history and presence in Lakeland.
Who were The Buffalo Soldiers?
Following the Civil War, six all-Black cavalry and 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 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 does 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 also features scenes designed by Polk County art students from Lake Region High School and Santa Fe Catholic High School.
“Friends of Freedom” is one of the country’s only monuments of the Spanish-American war. Even fewer exist commemorating The Buffalo Soldiers.