In honor of Colonal Charles Young who was posthumously promoted to Brigadier General 100 years after his death.
General Young was the third African American graduate of the United States Military Academy, the first Black US National Park superintendent, first Black military attaché, first Black man to achieve the rank of colonel in the United States Army, and the highest-ranking Black officer in the regular army until his death in 1922.
In 2022, in recognition of his exemplary service and the barriers he faced due to racism, a promotion ceremony was held in his honor at the US Military Academy at West Point.
Only Then …
by Michael White –
Only then was he freed from slavery by the 13th amendment when his father, Gabriel Young, risked his own life, not once but twice. The first time he was a runaway slave who crossed the Ohio River from Kentucky into Ohio. Then he risked his life again returning home from the American Civil War where he had served with the Fifth United States Colored Heavy Artillery Regiment.
Only then did he most likely get his first real taste of leadership, having taught at a new Black high school for three years after being the only “colored boy” who graduated at the top of his class from his then all-white high school.
Only then would he be commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, but not before he was welcomed into West Point as “the load of coal,” then having to pass a plate to a complaining White cadet who would not eat from a platter that a colored person had taken from first. He would, unusually, have to be demerited 140 times, and converse almost exclusively with the servants of West Point for a full year as the only means of human interaction; retake two classes; and be hazed, taunted, and God only knows what else for just a few of his classmates to see past the color of his skin.
Only then did he become the first African American to achieve the rank of Colonel—but not before already having been commander of the famous Buffalo soldiers: the Ninth and the Tenth US Cavalry, a regiment of Black troops chiefly in Nebraska, nicknamed for their service in the Great Plains and Midwest since the Indian Wars.
Only then, after serving as captain of a Black company at the Presidio of San Francisco, was he appointed Acting Superintendent of Sequoia and General Grant national parks, becoming the first black superintendent of a national park.
Only then, having been placed on a temporary inactive list for false allegations of “high blood pressure,” he was denied the opportunity for promotion to brigadier general for fear that no one would serve under an African American during World War I.
Only then, 100 years after his death, after surmounting challenge after challenge surrounded by controversy, would he become Brigadier General, and schools would be named after him, and fraternities make him an honorary member. Only then would plaques and memorials to him be erected in cities, and would I, a fellow combat veteran of the same US Army, understand that we all bleed red, white, and blue.
Only now, let us speak in honor of Brigadier General Charles Young!