Brigadier General Charles Young (United States National Park Service) (2023)

As a soldier, diplomat, and civil rights leader, Charles Young overcame repressive inequalities and became a leading figure in the post-Civil War years as the United States emerged as a world power.

Watch the official park video that tells the story of Colonel Charles Young.

Young was born to enslaved parents Gabriel and Arminta Young on March 12, 1864, in May's Lick, Kentucky. In the same year, his father escaped slavery and in February 1865 he joined the US 5th Colored Heavy Artillery. Some time after Gabriel enlisted, young Charles and his parents moved from Kentucky to Ripley, Ohio, across the river, seeking a new life in the riverside town that became the center of abolitionism. Charles flourished at Ripley in academia, foreign languages ​​and music. Her public education was supplemented by the generous help of her mother, who was educated while a slave, a rarity for any female slave in those days. At age 17, he graduated with honors from an integrated secondary school in 1881. After graduating from high school, Young taught at an African-American elementary school in Ripley for two years. He continued to pursue his thirst for knowledge and education while being guided and mentored by noted African-American abolitionist John Parker.

In 1883, Charles Young's father encouraged him to take the entrance exam to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Young came second in the examination and was not elected to the Academy that year. When the candidate before him dropped out of West Point, Young got his chance the following year. He entered West Point on June 10, 1884, becoming only the ninth African American to attend the Academy and the third to graduate. The other two African American graduates, Henry Ossian Flipper (1877) and John Hanks Alexander (1887), received commissions but had only brief Army careers. Flipper would be fired from the Army over controversial and dubious accusations of "... behavior unworthy of an officer ..." In the mid-1990s, descendants of his launched a campaign to have his name restored and clear his legacy of these accusations. On February 19, 1999, President William Jefferson Clinton pardoned Lieutenant Henry O. Flipper of these charges. Lieutenant John Hanks Alexander would have been a classmate of Charles Young at West Point and they would have served together at Ft. Duquesne, Utah for several years before Alexander left to become a professor at Wilberforce University in Ohio. Young was sent to Wilberforce shortly after Anderson's death from a sudden heart condition in 1894.

As a cadet, Young daily faced the same racial slurs and social isolation from instructors and other cadets as his predecessors. Despite these insults, he will persevere. After a bad first school year, Young had to repeat the first year, which was the Plebe year, to continue his studies. He would do that and do well for the next four academic years. Facing a failing grade in an engineering class during his final semester, Young was mentored by his instructor and allowed to retake the exam. This time Young died, and in the summer of 1889 he received his degree and commission.

Because military commanders would not allow an African-American officer to lead white troops, the Adjutant General's Office waited three months after Young graduated from West Point in 1889 before assigning the newly commissioned second lieutenant to the 9th Cavalry at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. After a year of isolation and hostility, Young moved to Fort Duchesne, Utah, where command and other officers proved more hospitable. Here, Young mentored Staff Sergeant Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., who later became the first African-American to reach the rank of general.

From 1889 to 1907 Young served with the 9th Cavalry in the western outposts and rose to the rank of captain. He also taught military science, served as a military attaché, and fought with distinction in the Philippine-American War, earning praise from his commanders for the bravery and professionalism of his troops in and out of combat.

In the fall of 1894, Charles Young was assigned independent service, which ended with him being posted to Wilberforce, Ohio. Young would take over the planning and eventual teaching of new military science and tactics courses at Wilberforce University. Originally selected for the professorship, Lieutenant John Hanks Alexander died suddenly in Springfield, Ohio on March 26, and Lieutenant Young was sent to replace Alexander. Lieutenants Alexander and Young lived together for several years at West Point Military Academy and also served together for a time at Fort Duchesne, Utah, so Young was no stranger to Alexander. Eventually, Lieutenant Young built a program for just over 100 cadets in the class of 1898. In addition, Young also helped found the Wilberforce University marching band. Music was an integral part of Young's life, so it's no surprise that he was excited to help form the university's marching band, having helped teach and direct the band in his previous role at Fort Duchense. Lieutenant Young remained at Wilberforce as a teacher until early 1898, when the war with Spain began with the infamous sinking of the battleship U.S.S. Maine in Cuba. Although Young did not return to his troops from the 9th Cavalry, he was appointed a major and commander of the Ninth Ohio Battalion, U.S. Volunteers.

Lieutenant Charles Young became one of the university's distinguished professors at the turn of the century, including W.E.B. DuBois, who became a lifelong close friend of Charles Young. In April 1898, Young was away from Wilberforce while he was gathering and training men for possible combat action in Cuba. However, Young settled in at the university and in the town of Wilberforce, and he returned frequently between his jobs and assignments to visit and purchase properties that he called "home" for the rest of his life.

In the summer of 1903, Captain Charles Young became the first African-American national park manager when he and his troops were given the task of managing and maintaining Sequoia National Park in Northern California. Because the US Army's job was to protect the national parks in those early years, the Army sent troops to manage, maintain, and patrol them. Young and his troops arrived in Sequoia National Park in the summer of 1903 and began building roads and trails that other troops had been unable to do in previous years. As leader of his troops, Young will inherit the title of Acting Superintendent of Sequoia National Park this year. He called on the local population to support his unit's efforts, and the achievements of him and his troops in their hard work during the summer were praised by many across the region.

Learn more about Charles Young's brief but profound tenure as curator of the national park by visiting the websiteSite do Parque Nacional Sequoia Kings Canyon.

In 1904 Captain Young became the first military attaché in Haiti and the Dominican Republic on the island of Hispaniola. Young joined 23 other officers (the only African American among them) serving in these diplomatic posts during the administration of Theodore Roosevelt. He won President Roosevelt's favor with the introduction Roosevelt wrote to his monograph on the people and customs of Hispaniola. Young's experiences in foreign service and commanding in the Philippines formed the basis of his book,The Military Morals of Nations and Races (1911).

From 1912 to 1916, he served as a military attache in Liberia, helping to train the Liberian Frontier Force. After returning from Liberia, he served as a squadron commander during the punitive expedition into Mexico against Pancho Villa. He distinguished himself at the Battle of Agua Caliente, leading his men to assist an ambushed cavalry unit. During the same period, Young gained further promotions, to major in 1912 and to lieutenant colonel in 1916.

In July 1917, Young retired and was promoted to full colonel in recognition of his distinguished military service. Young and his supporters called for his retirement to be reconsidered. To demonstrate his capacity for service, Young, then 54 years old, made a historic 500-mile ride from Wilberforce, Ohio, to Washington, DC. The Secretary of War then informally questioned Young, but did not reverse his decision.

Although retired for medical reasons, Young was retained on the active duty officer roster. During World War I, the War Department sent him back to Ohio to help gather and train African American recruits for the war. A few days before the Armistice of November 11, 1918, Young was assigned to Camp Grant (Illinois) to train black soldiers. Shortly thereafter, at the request of the State Department, Colonel Young was transferred as a military attaché to Liberia and arrived in Monrovia in February 1920. During a visit to Nigeria in late 1921, he became seriously ill and died in a hospital British. at Lagos Hospital on January 8, 1922. In accordance with British law, Young's body was buried in Lagos, Nigeria, for a year before being repatriated to the United States for final burial.

A year after his death, Young's wife and many other prominent African Americans lobbied the United States to have Young's remains repatriated from Nigeria so that he could be given a proper burial on American soil. A year later, Young's body was exhumed and transported back to the United States. Upon returning to the United States in New York City in late May 1923, Young's body was met with a hero's welcome. Thousands upon thousands commemorated Young's life on his way to Washington. On June 1, 1923, Colonel Charles Young became the fourth soldier honored with a funeral service at the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater before interment at Arlington National Cemetery. After a memorial service, he was buried with thousands of other heroes at Arlington National Cemetery.

Charles Young was honorably and posthumously promoted to the rank of brigadier general on November 1, 2021.

General Charles Young's grave is in Section 3, Tomb 1730-B, not far from where his funeral service was held at the Arlington Memorial Ampitheater.

Take a virtual tourArlington National Cemeteryin Virginia to see the tomb of General Charles Young.

Learn about the origins of Arlington National Cemetery by visiting the National Park ServiceArlington House, Roberta E. Lee MemorialInternet site.

VisitSite do Memorial Nacional Charles Young Buffalo Soldiersto learn more about this incredible man and the legacy he left behind.

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    Brigadier General Charles Young (United States National Park Service)? ›

    In the summer of 1903, Captain Charles Young would become the first African-American national park Superintendent when he and his troops were tasked to manage and maintain Sequoia National Park in northern California.

    How far did Colonel Charles Young ride his horse? ›

    After a year of pleading, Colonel Young mounted his horse in Wilberforce on June 6, 1918, and began a difficult 16-day ride to Washington D.C. He rode horseback for 497 miles. He crossed through Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia in two weeks.

    What was Colonel Young's position at Sequoia National Park? ›

    General Charles Young, Early Park Superintendent - Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks (U.S. National Park Service)

    What was Colonel Charles Young's nickname? ›

    Classmates jeered him with the nickname, "load of coal." There were racial slurs from fellow cadets as well as those of higher rank. Young had academic problems as well. Mathematics proved to be difficult for him and he was dismissed after his first year.

    Where is Col Charles Young buried? ›

    On June 1st, 1923, Colonel Charles Young became the fourth soldier honored with a funeral service at Arlington Memorial Amphitheater before burial in Arlington National Cemetery. After the memorial service, he was buried alongside the thousands of other heroes in Arlington National Cemetery.

    When did Colonel Charles Young become a member of Omega Psi Phi? ›

    In 1912, Colonel Young was selected as the second honorary member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.

    Who was the first black US Army colonel promoted to brigadier general 100 years after his death? ›

    The first Black U.S. Army colonel promoted to brigadier general 100 years after death. Charles Young, the first Black U.S. Army colonel whose groundbreaking military career was hampered a century ago by the racism of the era, was posthumously promoted on Friday to brigadier general.


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