Know Your History: Danny Glover and the heart of America

By Christian Carvajal on January 21, 2015

When I say the name Danny Glover, what comes to mind? As an actor, thanks in large part to his work in 1987's Lethal Weapon, he was one of cinema's first ubiquitous African-American leading men. He was already a household name, though, after strong turns in Places in the Heart, Witness, Silverado and The Color Purple. His stature (6'3") and gentle voice were a perfect fit for "good cop" roles, and he earned his first lead chasing an extraterrestrial trophy hunter in Predator 2. As Lethal Weapon sequels rolled out over the ensuing decade, Glover established a résumé of range, including laudable performances in To Sleep with Anger, A Rage in Harlem, Grand Canyon and the justly beloved Lonesome Dove miniseries of 1989. Now in his late 60s, Glover continues to impress, with younger audiences discovering him in Saw, 2012 and Death at a Funeral. He is not, in fact, "too old for this shit," as his character in Lethal Weapon would famously have it. On the contrary, he's a consummate professional who never strikes a discordant note.

So that's his working life - but aside from that, Glover's established quite the CV as a social and civil rights activist. In college, he and fellow members of the Black Students Union staged a five-month-long student walkout at San Francisco State University. The result was a Black Studies department at SFSU, the first of its kind in the nation. He's a fixture in the pro-union movement and was named honorary tribal chief by the Igbo of eastern Nigeria. He's on the board of a D.C. advocacy organization, the TransAfrica Forum, and of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. In 2004, he was appointed UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, an honor for which he served in both Africa and Latin America.

None of that, however, is the focus of Glover's upcoming visit to Tacoma. No, Danny Glover wants to make sure you know a fascinating aspect of U.S. history. If all you know of Buffalo Soldiers is the dorm-friendly Bob Marley classic, it's time you learned why the Civil War story of the U.S. 10th Cavalry Regiment resonates today. The indigenous people they fought called them the "Negro Cavalry," and indeed, some of these all-black regiments were commanded by black officers. They were among the first national park rangers and chased "Pancho" Villa in Mexico. None of that, of course, prevented them from being brutally assaulted numerous times by Texas civilians. Gen. John Pershing, a white man who served with and endorsed the 10th Cavalry, is still called "Black Jack" in history books, if only because newspaper writers of the era euphemized his much crueler nickname.

Although the National Buffalo Soldier National Museum is in Houston (where they were attacked in 1917), Tacoma has its own 501(c)(3) Buffalo Soldiers Museum. It's at 1940 S. Wilkeson - and Danny Glover thinks it's high time you knew that. His evening at Broadway Center's a benefit for that museum and a tribute to American heroes. A $40 donation earns a ticket to a pre-show meet-and-greet. The performance itself is guaranteed to bring history to life and shine a spotlight on soldiers whose complex relationship with the tribes they battled is a microcosm of American civil rights history.

AN EVENING WITH DANNY GLOVER, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 25, Pantages Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma, $19-$49, 253.591.5890