Black History: Charles Young

Featured, History & Politics

Charles Young (March 12, 1864 – January 8, 1922) was the third African American graduate of West Point, the first black U.S. national park superintendent, first blackmilitary attaché, first black to achieve the rank of colonel, and highest-ranking black officer in the United States Army until his death in 1922.

Young was born March 12, 1864 to exslaves in the little hamlet of MaysLick, Kentucky. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1889. This gave him the honor of being the third African-American to do so, in spite of the hatred, bigotry and discrimination he encountered as an undergraduate.

His first assignment after graduation was with the Buffalo Soldiers in the 10th Cavalry in Nebraska, and then in the 9th and 10th Cavalries in Utah. With the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, he was reassigned as Second Lieutenant to training duty at Camp Algers, Virginia.

Young was then awarded a commission as a Major in the Ninth Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Later, during the Spanish-American War, he was in command of a squadron of the 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers in Cuba.

After the war with Spain, Young was reassigned to Fort Duchesne in Utah where he successfully arbitrated a dispute between Native Americans and sheep herders. He also met one of the many soldiers who would eventually benefit from his encouragement, Sergeant Major Benjamin O. Davis. Later, Davis would became General Benjamin O. Davis, the first African-American to reach the rank of General in the U.S. army.

Charles Young distinguished himself throughout his military career with the Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th and 10th Cavalries, and the 25th Infantry. He also served as Professor of Military Science at Wilberforce University, Ohio.

With the creation of the army’s Military Information Division (MID), came his assignment as one of the army’s first military attachés, in Port Au Prince, Haiti. His job was to observe the training and exercises of foreign armies and make reports on their relative strengths and weaknesses. United States intelligence was desperate for new maps and information about groups struggling for political power in Haiti. Young risked his life to fulfill his assignments, only to have his maps and reports stolen and sold to the Haitian government.

On a day in June, 1918 retired Lt. Colonel Charles Young, made his way on horseback, 500 miles from Wilberforce, Ohio to this nation’s capital, to show he was as always, fit for duty. There, he petitioned the Secretary of War (now called Secretary of Defense) for immediate reinstatement and command of a combat unit in Europe. The ride from Ohio to Washington D.C. brought bittersweet results. Young was reinstated and promoted to full Colonel, but he was assigned to duty at Camp Grant, Illinois. By the time his reinstatement and promotion were in effect the war was near its end.

Too weak to command in France they said, but not too weak to traverse and suffer the swamps of West Africa, Colonel Charles Young, was once again, assigned to Liberia as Military Attaché. He died at that post on January 8, 1922, while on a research expedition in Lagos, Nigeria.

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