The man you will meet here is yet another example of success against great odds. His story is an American story and reveals both the weaknesses and the strengths of this country and the capacity of each individual human being to make his own unique way in the world.
This country’s greatness is best expressed in its love of freedom and in its great experiment of unleashing and empowering the individual to make his or her own way and, at the same time, participate in the common good, the building up and the improvement of the whole society. Col. Charles Young‘s story is all of that and more.
Young was born in the middle of the Civil War in 1964 to enslaved parents in Kentucky. That same year, his father, Gabriel, escaped from his slave master and joined the 5th Regiment of the U.S. Colored Artillery in 1865. Having escaped the condition of slavery, he chose to serve the cause of ending slavery as a soldier in the Union Army. One can imagine that his motivation was on the most personal of levels, that is, the experience of his own slavery and his desire to free his family from that same condition…forever.
Gabriel’s son, Charles, was a bright student and excelled in the study of languages and music. Charles would graduate from high school at the age of 17 at the top of his class. His father, Gabriel, suggested that he take the entrance exam to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Charles took the exam and achieved the second-highest score of all who took the exam that year. But he was not accepted that year. He would not be admitted until the man who scored above him dropped out.
Charles’s first year at West Point was difficult due to the climate of racial prejudice and discrimination. He was segregated from the Cadet Corps and was on his own to make it in both the classroom and on the parade grounds. As a result of the intense pressures from both without and within, he would have to repeat his first year, but, clearly, it only strengthened his resolve. He excelled intellectually and in all other aspects of the Cadet Corps training. He graduated in 1889 and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. He would be only the third African American to graduate from the United States Military Academy.
Young would serve most of his military career as an officer with the “Buffalo Soldiers” of both the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments. During his career, he would command the 9th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the 2nd Squadron of the 10th Cavalry Regiment, and Fort Huachuca. He would serve in the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, the Pancho Villa Expedition, and WWI.
He would also become the first African American ever to serve in the capacity of military attache to a foreign country. He would serve in that capacity in Haiti, Liberia, Mexico, and Nigeria. In 1894, he would be asked to teach military science courses at Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio. He would become a close friend with one of the other faculty members there, the famous W.E.B. Dubois.
In July of 1917, he was medically discharged from the Army after 28 years of active duty service. He had his medical retirement reversed and this was when he served as a military attache for the U.S. government. It was while serving in this capacity in Nigeria that he became ill and died in a British hospital in that country. His body was shipped home, and he was buried with honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
Just recently, on January 19, 2022, Charles Young’s family was notified by the Secretary of the Army, Christine Wormuth, that Young has been posthumously promoted to the rank of Brigadier General.
It is good for all of us to see that it is possible as individuals to rise above the injustices and the unfairness that comes to all of us. Rather than be defeated by those things, we can see in Brig. Gen. Charles Young’s life the strength and determination that exist in all of us. He faced challenges greater than most, but he was not defeated by them, nor did he fall into bitterness and resentment. He knew who he was and that he had not only the right to be who he could be but also talents and abilities to make a difference in this life. He wanted to serve this country, and he did that with distinction, courage, and personal character. We honor his memory and thank him for his service. He was the embodiment of the motto of the Buffalo Soldiers: “Ready and Forward.”Whizzco