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The first Black U.S. Army colonel was promoted to brigadier general a century after his death

The first Black U.S. Army colonel was promoted to brigadier general a century after his death

Charles Young faced rampant racism during his time at West Point and in the U.S. Army. Last weekend, the Army recognized his years of dedicated service with a posthumous promotion.

Charles Young was the first Black colonel of the United States Army. He served between the years 1889 and 1922. But due to the rampant racism of the time, his groundbreaking military career was severely hampered. Now, a century after his death, Young has been promoted to brigadier general posthumously. According to the U.S. Army, this retroactively makes him the first Black American recognized with that rank. The promotion comes after years of effort. As a result, the honorary designation was the focus of an official promotion ceremony at the United States Military Academy West Point in New York on Friday, CNN reports.



 

Gabe Camarillo, the Under Secretary of the Army, stated in his remarks during the promotion ceremony, "[Young's] promotion today to brigadier general has been a long time delayed, but fortunately for all of us no longer denied." He called the late soldier a "model leader" and referred to his persevering legacy as "frankly inspiring." Prior to his death in 1922, Young was passed over for a well-deserved promotion. A Black service member would only join the general officers rank in the Army after almost two decades; when Benjamin Davis Sr. was promoted to brigadier general in the year 1940.



 

Members of Young's family were present for the special occasion. His great-niece Renotta Young was presented with Young's posthumous honorary promotion order and certificate, a gold-plated leather belt that general officers wear, and a one-star general officer flag. "Charles Young weathered social isolation not only at West Point but throughout his military and National Parks career," she recalled during a speech she delivered. "While he felt the sharp sting of discriminatory treatment from his classmates here at West Point, at various points in his career from his superiors also, he did not consign all of White America to the racist side of the ledger." She added that Young "managed to love" the American experiment despite the hardships he faced.



 

In an interview with CNN, she revealed that it took nearly half a century to get her uncle promoted to brigadier general. The efforts to do so were largely driven by her family and the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., where she is an honorary member. She affirmed, "Even though it was long overdue, this was the time it happened, and I think this is the right time for folks to communicate the legacy of his life and what he has done for our country."



 

Young received his acceptance letter to West Point in 1884, becoming the academy's ninth Black attendee at the time. Although he had taken the entrance exams for West Point a year prior, earning the second-highest score that year, he was only allowed admission when a candidate dropped out. During his time at the academy, he faced racism from instructors and even his fellow cadets. Nonetheless, he persevered and became the third Black graduate of the academy. Following his graduation from West Point, he waited three months before he received his first assignment. This is because Black officers were not allowed to command white troops at the time. In 1903, he became the first Black national park superintendent after he and his troops were assigned to manage Sequoia National Park in Northern California.



 

A year later, he became the first military attache to Haiti and the Dominican Republic on the island of Hispaniola in 1904. Some have questioned the ethics of celebrating a Black man's involvement in one of the largest institutions to degrade the rights of people of color in the global south. However, he is remembered as a resilient soldier. WEB DuBois wrote of Young in an edition of the NAACP's "The Crisis" publication a month after his death, "He was one of the few men I know who literally turned the other cheek with Jesus Christ. He was laughed at for it and his own people chided him bitterly, yet he persisted. When a white Southern pigmy at West Point protested at taking food from a dish passed first to Young, Young passed it to him first and afterward to himself. When officers of inferior rank refused to salute a 'n***er,' he saluted them. Seldom did he lose his temper, seldom complain."



 

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