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College of Education

I Was a Buffalo Soldier – The Story of Nolan Self


Nolan Self (1918-2016), a Buffalo Soldier who served in the 9th and 10th Cavalry at the turn of World War II, recounts his life-changing experiences coming into and serving in the military in this biographical documentary. This film is a rare chance to experience what life was like as a Buffalo Soldier during the transitioning years from horse cavalries to tanks and foot patrols.

Nolan’s journey to the army began when Self’s mother and ten siblings moved from Leesburg, Louisiana, to Pine Bluffs, Arkansas, after his father’s untimely death.

Self-recounts the trip with about 400 young African-American men on the Missouri-Pacific train from Pine Bluffs to Fort Leavenworth who were to become Buffalo Soldiers. It broke his mother’s heart to think her son was going off to war, but that’s not how Self saw it.

“The Army was a salvation to me and my family. I was glad to be a soldier.”

Self-explained that the Army moved the 10th Cavalry to Fort Riley to train with the 9th Cavalry. That’s where he met fellow Buffalo Soldier and world heavyweight champion, Joe Louis. Thanks to Louis’s efforts a dance was hosted in Topeka KS where Self would meet his future wife Wilma Self.

The couple raised eight sons and the film depicts the deep love, respect and wisdom the two have gained during their seven-plus decades together.

We invite teachers everywhere to view and share this great resource of little known American history with their classes. Additional resources will be forthcoming.

This film was made possible by the Curtis Self Family who commissioned the project in 2015.