Black History: Colonel Charles Young – Legendary Buffalo Soldier, Educator, and Diplomat Promoted to Brigadier General in the United States Army 

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By: Charles Blatcher, III Chairman

National Coalition of Black Veterans’ Organizations

One hundred years, one month, and nine days to the date of Colonel Charles Young’s death in Nigeria on January 8, 1922, on February 17, 2022, it will mark the day that the United States Army will bestow the rank of Brigadier General of the United States Army on Colonel Charles Young. Also, this promotion serves as an affirmation that perseverance and dedication to a goal has been rewarded. This honor to Brigadier General Charles Young is the result of a 41-year advocacy by the Coalition of Black Veterans headquarters in Oakland, California, and a promise I made to retired Sergeant Samuel Waller. 

The advocacy began in 1977 when I met and became friends with retired Sergeant Samuel Waller, the last surviving veteran of the Spanish American War in California. Sergeant Waller had served with then Captain Charles Young in the Philippine Islands (1901) as a member of the 24th Infantry Regiment. Young was the Commanding Officer of the Ninth Calvary Regiment in the country. According to Waller, Young was the best Officer in the United States Army. He said that Black troops loved and respected Young and would follow him to hell and back. Waller was adamant when he added that the only reason Charles Young was not a General was based upon his color. Sergeant Waller planted a seed that day. As I began learning about Colonel Young, I had to concur with Sergeant Waller that there was only one reason as W.E.B. DuBois said, “There was no place for a Black General in the United States Army.” 

In 1978 while consulting with Sergeant Waller regarding the “March for Recognition” Sam made a request: to not let them [Black soldiers] be written out of history. As a young Black man and a veteran, I promised to do my best to honor his request. Today, my promise has been kept with Colonel Charles Young’s promotion to Brigadier General. My sincere thanks to the organizations, associations, and many individuals who have contributed to this milestone. 

Young’s promotion is a great day for many people including his descendants as well as to the State of Kentucky. Any day that a nation can face its past mistakes and put forth the efforts to correct those mistakes, it is a Great Day. It is sign of growth and hope. Growth in that we have taken steps to mature beyond the foolishness of not understanding that the strength of our Nation resides in our unity of purpose and Hope that we continue to do the necessary work to preserve our Democratic Republic. However, this is not the end of the advocacy for Brigadier General Charles Young. 

We have submitted a request for the Department of Interior to consider annexing the General’s birth cabin which is in May’s Lick, Kentucky, into the National Park Service. We are looking at the tourism possibilities of getting the highway between May’s Lick and Wilberforce, Ohio designated the “Brigadier General Charles Young Corridor.” The designation covers the route from his birthplace to his residence at the time of his death. 

In addition to making Young’s birthplace part of the National Park Service, we are leading an effort to erect a bronze statue of Brigadier General Charles Young on horseback in Washington, D.C. This statue will memorialize the General’s 497-mile walk/horseback ride from Wilberforce, Ohio to Washington D.C. in 1917. The trip was to prove his fitness to return to active duty after forced into medical retirement. The statue could welcome visitors to the National African American Museum of History and Culture. Our military involvements are the cornerstone of our claim for Civil Rights. Currently, there are bronze maquettes on public display in the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage, in Louisville, and the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum in Houston. We have called upon Lonnie Bunch, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, for guidance.

The United States Army is in the process of renaming Army bases that currently honor Confederate generals. Army tradition dictates that the rank of General is the qualification for being considered for a base name. Naming a base after a Colonel would represent a break in that tradition. We submitted Colonel Young’s name anyway on the merits of his history. In February 2020, Governor Andy Beshear granted Young a state promotion of honorary Brigadier General in the Kentucky National Guard. However, this honorary promotion was limited to the State. Governor Beshear joined us in writing to President Joe Biden to federalize the State promotion that would qualify Young to be considered a candidate for a base to bear his name. Now, this recent Federal promotion may have a significant impact on our request. 

The Coalition is optimistic that along with Young, we have sent recommendations for four other Generals to be considered: Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., the first Black General in the Regular Armed Forces; General Roscoe Robinson, Jr., the first Black 4 Star General in American History; Brigadier General Hazel W. Johnson, the first Black Woman General in American History; and Major General Charles C. Rogers, the only Black General recipient of the Medal of Honor. The Commission’s decision will be released in October. 

Coalition members are in talks regarding an event to mark Young’s promotion. More than likely, the event will be planned for the Spring or Summer in Kentucky or Washington, D.C. It would be appropriate to host a ceremony in Section C of Arlington National Cemetery. The Arlington visit would allow us to have a site visit of the grounds at the National African American Museum of History and Culture. The public will be welcome to join the “Salute”. I end with a personal “Salute” to all of you who contributed toward the promotion. I “Salute” the late Sergeant Samuel Waller, United States Army for giving purpose to my life.  Ready & Forward!

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