From the American Revolution to the Spanish-American War

Who was Charles Young?

Charles Young (1864–1922) was the first black military attaché in the history of the United States; he was accredited to Haiti. In 1889 Young was the third man of color to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy, entering the academy after his graduation from historically black Wilberforce University in Ohio. He was a five-year graduate, having dropped out for a year because of deficiencies in mathematics; he also had to cope with racial affronts during his experience at West Point. When he graduated he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Cavalry. During the Spanish-American War, Young served as a major in charge of the 9th Ohio Regiment, an all-black volunteer unit. He served in Haiti, the Philippines, and Mexico, and by 1916 he had attained the rank of lieutenant colonel. Young was the second person and the first military person to be honored with the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal in 1916. In 1917 at the advent of World War I, Young was forced to retire for reasons of “physical unfitness for duty.” (He was suffering from extremely high blood pressure and Bright’s disease.) He held the rank of full colonel at the time. In response, Young mounted his favorite horse at Wilber-force, Ohio, and rode five hundred miles to Washington, D.C., to prove that he was indeed fit for service. The army reinstated him in 1918, and he was assigned to train black troops at Fort Grant, Illinois. In 1919 Colonel Young was sent as military attaché to Liberia on a second tour of duty. He died in Lagos, Nigeria, during an inspection tour. He was given a funeral there with full military honors, but was later exhumed at the request of his widow and buried in Arlington Cemetery. Black schools in the nation’s capital were closed to honor him on the day of his burial. Born the son of slaves in Mayslick, Kentucky, Young grew up in Ripley, Ohio. During the early part of his army career, he taught military science and other subjects at Wilberforce. As a diplomat in foreign countries he used his cartography skills to draw new maps and revise existing ones. In May 1974 his home in Xenia, Ohio, was declared a National Historic Landmark by the Department of the Interior.


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