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NEWS | Feb. 3, 2022

KY Native Charles Young Posthumously Promoted to BG by U.S. Army

By Andy Dickson, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced that the U.S. Department of Defense has approved the posthumous honorary promotion of U.S. Army Col. Charles Young to Brigadier General on Feb. 1, 2022.

In February 2020, Gov. Beshear recognized the promotion of Young on the state level and submitted a letter to President Joe Biden to have the honorary promotion be instated on a federal level.

On Nov. 1, 2021, Under Secretary of Defense Gilbert Cisnero Jr. approved the request and Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth informed Young’s family of the approval on January 19th, 2022.

“Charles Young was a pioneer, especially in his military career, but also throughout his life,” said Beshear. “I was honored to promote Col. Young to Brigadier General in the commonwealth two years ago, and I am pleased to announce that that honor has now been extended to the entire U.S. Army.”

Young was born in Mays Lick, Kentucky on March 12, 1864 to Gabriel and Arminta Young, both of whom were enslaved. In the same year, Gabriel escaped and joined the 5th Regiment, U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, a Mississippi Union unit.

Young and his parents soon relocated to Ripley, Ohio where he was able to study academics, foreign languages and music. By age 17, he had graduated high school with honors and taught elementary school for two years.

Despite scoring the second highest on the entrance exams at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Young was not selected to attend. However, a candidate dropped out and the following year, he received his acceptance letter. Young was not only the ninth African-American to attend the academy, but he was also the third to graduate.

As a Second Lieutenant, Young was assigned to the 9th Cavalry at Fort Robinson, Nebraska where he faced “isolation and hostility” as black officer. A year later he was transferred to Fort Duchesne, Utah where the environment was much friendlier. It was here that Young’s career began to take hold.

While stationed in Utah, Young worked with and mentored Sgt. Maj. Benjamin O. Davis, the first black Soldier to earn the rank of general. Young also taught military science and would fight with honors in the Philippine-American War in which he fought with courage and professionalism.

Young’s career in the military would bring him back to Ohio where he taught Military Sciences and Tactics at Wilberforce University. His many successes there was strengthening the program to over 100 cadets and establishing the Wilberforce University marching band.

When the war with Spain kicked off in 1898, Young was promoted to major and became the commander of the 9th Ohio Battalion, U.S. Volunteers.

At the turn of the century and the establishment of the National Park Service, the U.S. Army was under orders to protect and patrol the parks. As a captain, Young became the first African-American national park superintendent; he was tasked to Sequoia National Park to construct roads and trails that other troops could not prior to him.

In 1904, he was the only African-American officer serving in a diplomatic post in Theodore Roosevelt’s administration as the military attachĂ© in Haiti and the Dominican Republic and in 1912 to 1916 would serve as a military ambassador in Liberia.

However, in July 1917, Young was forced to medically retire and promoted to colonel for his service. Young disagreed and, to show his fitness, made a historic 500-mile horseback ride from Wilberforce to Washington, D.C. However, this still did not convince the Secretary of War to reverse his decision.

During World War I, Young was assigned to Ohio and later to Illinois to train young black Soldiers for the war. Eventually, Col. Young was assigned back to Liberia.

While on a mission to Nigeria, Young became ill and was transported back to Liberia where he died of a kidney infection on January 8th, 1922.

British law required that he be buried in Lagos, Nigeria for one year before his remains could be repatriated back to the U.S.

One year later, Young received a hero’s welcome and was attended by thousands as he became the fourth Soldier honored at the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater before being buried in the Arlington National Cemetery.

Brig. Gen. Charles Young, while not having served in the National Guard, exemplified the meaning of professionalism and bravery of Kentuckians, especially being born at the height of the Civil War.

While slaves had been technically freed by President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, that only applied to states that had seceded from the Union. Young’s family, living in Kentucky, were still enslaved; Kentucky never seceded and slaves would be freed upon the ratification of the 14th Amendment.

Yet throughout his life, Young became a rare example of success for African-Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And for that, he has a place in the history of Kentucky and a person the Commonwealth should celebrate.


National Park Service, January 13th, 2022

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