NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper joined community leaders and other lawmakers at a special Veterans Day program at Tennessee State University on Friday that posthumously honored an alumnus and Medal of Honor recipient.
Lt. William McBryar, a Buffalo Soldier, was awarded America’s highest military decoration for his actions on March 7, 1890, during the Cherry Creek Campaign in the Arizona Territory. According to his citation, McBryar was distinguished for “coolness, bravery and marksmanship” while his 10th Cavalry troop was in pursuit of hostile Apache warriors.
“Medal of Honor recipients … are some of the most outstanding people in all of our nation’s history,” Cooper said after the program. “I’m so proud that a TSU graduate received that medal.”
Dating back to the Civil War, there have been 3,498 Medal of Honor recipients. Of that number, 90 are black – and Lt. McBryar is one of them.
“We are acutely aware of the paucity of African Americans who have received such an honor,” said Dr. Mark Hardy, TSU’s vice president for academic affairs. “We are very excited to be one of the institutions to have been a part of the educational experience our Medal of Honor recipient, Lt. William McBryar, received many years ago.”
Lt. Col. Sharon Presley, Air Force ROTC Det 790 commander stationed at TSU, echoed Hardy’s sentiment.
“From the perspective of a military officer, to know of someone who achieved the nation’s highest honor, is awe-inspiring,” Presley said. “He was a soldier’s soldier.”
Dr. Learotha Williams, an associate professor of history at TSU, gave a tribute to McBryar during the program. He lauded McBryar for overcoming racial barriers, and for his bravery.
“This is the kind of guy who was running toward gunfire, rather than seeking cover,” Williams said.
McBryar went on to serve with the 25th Infantry in the Spanish-American war and fought at El Caney, Cuba. He also saw action in the Philippine Insurrection before demobilizing in San Francisco.
In 1906, after leaving the military, McBryar moved to Greensboro, North Carolina as a civilian and there he married Sallie Waugh, a nurse. Three years later, he worked as a watchman at Arlington National Cemetery and as a military instructor at what is now Saint Paul’s College.
In 1933, with a desire to complete his degree, McBryar attended Tennessee Agricultural & Industrial State University. He graduated the following year, at age 73, with an agriculture degree, finishing a college education that started at Saint Augustine’s University before he enlisted in the military.
McBryar went on to write for “The Bulletin,” a publication at Tennessee State, addressing issues related to social justice and developments in Germany
Dale Rich, a nationally recognized Medal of Honor researcher, began collecting information on McBryar more than 30 years ago after seeing his name on a list of Medal of Honor recipients at the National Archives and Records Administration. When he discovered McBryar graduated from Tennessee A&I, he made copies of the documents he gathered about McBryar and sent them to TSU where they are in special collections in the university’s library.
Rich attended Friday’s Veterans Day program at TSU, and said he’s glad to see McBryar being honored.
“We should never allow any of our heroes to be forgotten,” Rich said. “He was an outstanding person.”
Keshawn Lipscomb is NCOIC of administration management in TSU’s AFROTC program. He said the university is fortunate to have the materials Rich collected on McBryar.
“That’s what’s really allowed us to honor him (McBryar) here today,” Lipscomb said.
Tennessee Rep. Harold Love, Jr., said McBryar’s story should encourage non-traditional students considering completing a degree, or pursuing one..
“For him, education at 73 was not about getting a job, but it was about completing something he had started,” Love said. “And so, for students out there, we say, keep pushing, keep striving, let this story inspire you.”
McBryar died in 1941 at the age of 80. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. A Tennessee Historical marker honoring him will be unveiled at TSU early next year.
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With more than 8,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 bachelor’s degree programs, 25 master’s degree programs and seven doctoral degrees. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.