On Thursday, March 15, 2018, we honored and celebrated the 154th birthday of Col. Charles Young at the National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center (hosted by the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument). Today, I'd like to honor him and remember a man who overcame adversity and racism and became a leader of his time.
Charles Young was born into slavery on March 12, 1864 to parents Gabriel and Arminta Young in Kentucky. Shortly after his birth, Gabriel Young escaped and joined the 5th Regiment of the U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, and soon after, moved his family to Ripley, Ohio. Charles was an exceptional student, and in 1881, graduated with academic honors from an integrated high school. After graduating, Charles taught at an African-American elementary school, but knew he wanted more (Fig 1).
Fig 1. 1880 Census showing Young Family in Ripley, Ohio (FamilySearch.org)
In 1883, with the encouragement of his father, Young took the entrance exam for the United States Military Academy at West Point. Young scored the second highest on the exam, but was not granted admittance; however, the following year the highest scoring candidate dropped out, opening up the opportunity for Young. In 1884, Young became only the ninth African-American to attend the Academy.
Young's first year was abysmal, facing isolation and racial discrimination from instructors and cadets alike. His grades suffered, but he repeated his first year, overcoming the adversities, and completed the remaining four years. Young graduated and received his commission from West Point in 1889, becoming only the third African-American to do so (Fig 2).
Fig 2. 1900 Census listing Charles Young as a Soldier (FamilySearch.org)
Young continued to face injustices in his military career. Since African-American officers were not permitted to command white troops, Young waited several months before receiving an assignment as a 2nd Lieutenant of the 9th Cavalry (aka "Buffalo Soldiers") at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. The assignment was not a good fit, and he transferred to Fort Duchesne, Utah, an environment and command that was more accepting and welcoming. It was here at Fort Duchesne that Young flourished.
In 1894, Young received a detached assignment to teach Military Sciences & Tactics courses at Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio. By the time Young departed in 1898, he had built the program to over 100 cadets, and due to his passion for music, aided in establishing the University's marching band. Although his assignments led him away from Wilberforce, it was here that Young called home. He was established in the community and university and returned frequently (Fig 3).
Fig 3. Home of Charles Young in Wilberforce, Ohio (Library of Congress)
Prior to the establishment of the national parks system, the U.S. Army was assigned the task of managing, protecting, and patrolling the parks. In 1903, Captain Young was assigned to Sequoia National Park and became the first African-American Superintendent of a national park (Fig 4).
Fig 4. Display about the Buffalo Soldiers at the National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center (NAAMCC)
In 1904, Captain Young had yet another first - becoming the first Military Attaché (an army officer serving with an embassy or attached as an observer to a foreign army) to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and the only African-American of the 23 other officers to serve in these posts under Theodore Roosevelt's administration.
Captain Young rose in the ranks during his assignment as a military attaché to Liberia from 1912 through 1916, being promoted to major in 1912 and lieutenant colonel in 1916 (Fig 5). However, in July of 1917, Young was medically discharged and promoted to colonel. At 54, Col. Young fought the retirement and made the 500-mile trek from Wilberforce, Ohio to Washington, D.C. on horseback to prove he was fit for service. Unfortunately, the decision was not overturned; but that did not stop him from continuing his service (Fig 6).
Fig 5. Major Charles Young (Library of Congress)
Fig 6. Exhibit display at the 154th Birthday Celebration of Col. Charles Young at the NAAMCC
During WWI, Col. Young was sent to Ohio by the War Department to muster and train African-American soldiers. Shortly after the war ended, the State Department requested Col. Young's services again as a military attaché in Liberia. Col. Young arrived in Monrovia in February 1920, but this would prove to be his last assignment. While visiting Nigeria, Col. Young took ill and passed away in a British hospital in Lagos on January 8, 1922 (Fig 7). Although originally buried in Nigeria, Young's remains were exhumed and transported back to the United States. Col. Young's remains were laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery on June 1, 1923, being only the fourth soldier honored with a funeral service at the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater prior to interment (Fig 8).
Fig 7. Select Military Registers listing the military career of Col. Charles Young (Ancestory.com)
Fig 8. Col. Charles Young Headstone at Arlington National Cemetery (FindAGrave.com)
This is by no means a comprehensive history of this distinguished man. Col. Charles Young was a champion and leader, never allowing racism and discrimination to stop him from obtaining his goals. He persevered, he fought long and hard for his promotions, and never gave up. He is truly a hero and will continue to be remembered for his fight for the rights of all African-American soldiers.
Ancestry.com. U.S., Select Military Registers, 1862-1985 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013
Arlington Cemetery: http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/cdyoung.htm
Library of Congress
National Park Service: https://www.nps.gov/chyo/learn/historyculture/colonel-charles-young.htm
National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center
The White House: https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2013/03/25/presidential-proclamation-charles-young-buffalo-soldiers-national-monume