2010 Hall of Fame Inductee
Paul J. Matthews
The 1864 Springfield rifle’s long barrel is scarred with notches and pocked with dents, after having endured hard service in the ranks of the 10th U.S. Cavalry. The rifle brings to life an image of a soldier whose hands once held it in its original pristine beauty. These hands were undoubtedly black, because the man was a Buffalo Soldier. The wooly-mane animal head mounted nearby conveys the power and wildness of the creature whose spirit the Cheyenne warriors passed on to the African American soldiers out of respect for their ferocity in battle. Fast forward in time and the spiritual calm of a stately exhibited field altar placed next to the dress uniform of an Army Chaplain conveys a sense of urgency in prayer for the men and women in his care.
These and other exhibits in the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum embody the vision of Paul J. Matthews, founder and Chief Executive Officer. A graduate of Prairie View A&M University and a former captain in the U.S. Army’s Medical Service Corp, he received a Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Medal, and Combat Medical Badge in the Republic of Vietnam in 1969 and then went on to become executive business manager and director of military affairs for Merck & Co., Inc. During his career at Merck, Matthews pursed his interest in the exploits of the Buffalo Soldiers. Thirty years later, Matthews kept telling Barbara, his wife of forty years, that he had enough artifacts to start a museum. His donations make up 60 percent of the collection in the only museum in America to chronicle the entire African American military experience, from the Revolutionary War to the Persian Gulf War. The museum also recognizes the military contributions of African American women, such as Harriet Tubman. More than 90,000 visitors have enjoyed the museum’s interactive tours and reenactments of historic Black characters.
In 2003, Matthews received the Congressional Black Caucus Veterans’ Braintrust Award for his "exemplary national and community service on behalf of this country’s African American veterans." Additional awards include 2005 NAACP Community Service Award, 2006 National Educational Association’s Carter G. Woodson Award, 2008 YMCA Houston Minority Achievers Award, 2008 National Women of Achievement Shining Star Award, 2008 Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge George Washington Honor Medal and 2009 Houston Frontiers Club 21st Martin Luther King, Jr. Drum Major Award. The museum participates in parades, gives historical lectures, and supports the national Veteran’s Registry Project. He established the Veteran’s Oral Initiative in collaboration with Texas Southern University (TSU), University of Houston and the Library of Congress.
The museum’s many outreach projects for young people include a drill team, summer internships for junior and senior ROTC students, and a college internship program. Not only does the museum provide educational programming for middle and high school students students from more than 20 local schools visit annually it also provides curricula and teaching aids designed to meet Texas State Education Standards for each of grades 7 through 10. In addition to routinely helping to plan, organize, and implement innovative programs at TSU and Prairie View A & M University, Matthews coordinates the Black History Month program with TSU’s English department.
On a personal note, Matthews is a member of the Fort Bend Church in Sugar Land, Texas and a life member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, 9th & 10Th (Horse) Cavalry Association, and Alpha Phi Omega National Service Fraternity.
Matthews sums up the spirit of the Buffalo Soldiers in a televised segment from Broadcast News Reports: "I think that we can learn the true meaning of Patriotism…The Buffalo Soldiers stood up for America when America was not standing up for the Buffalo Soldiers.
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