The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights asks the public to urge that the late U.S. Col. Charles D. Young of Kentucky be posthumously awarded the rank of brigadier general. Justice delayed does not have to result in justice denied when it comes to the righting of historical wrongs.
Young, born to former slaves in Mays Lick, in 1864, was the highest-ranking African-American commanding officer in the U. S. Army from 1894 until his death in 1922. He also served as the first African-American superintendent of a national park, while commanding a troop of Buffalo Soldiers before the creation of the U.S. National Park Service.
In 1889, he became the third African-American to graduate from the U. S. Military Academy at West Point. He graduated with the rank of second lieutenant. Because of his exceptional leadership, in 1917 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel, making him the highest-ranking African-American U.S. Army officer in World War I.
Because the military at that time would not allow African-Americans to command white troops, Young served nearly his entire military career with regiments of the all-black U.S. Buffalo Soldiers. He spent 28 years leading the 10th U.S. Calvary Regiment, a division of the Buffalo Soldiers in Nebraska, and led the 9th and 10th cavalries of Buffalo Soldiers in Utah.
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Many Americans, past and present, have believed the political and social climates of the time of racial segregation and discrimination prevented Young from being promoted to become the first black brigadier general in the U.S. Armed Forces.
He served and fought for our nation with distinction and courage. He exuded decorum and honor in leadership, both in and out of uniform. He persevered and triumphed through racial insults, social isolation and discrimination at West Point. He encountered bigotry and hostility throughout his military career. He overcame harassment, disrespect and the embarrassment that comes with racial hatred.
Through it all, he behaved with dignity. He met, head-on, the challenges of racism and discrimination that were embedded within society and the military.
On Aug. 27, the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, in association with the Louisville Department of Metro Parks and Recreation, held a rededication service of a Louisville park on Lytle Street in the Portland neighborhood. At the event, the park name was changed from the Charles Young Park to the Colonel Charles D. Young Park to more appropriately honor the man and to highlight his example to park visitors.
Also, in Lexington last month, city officials announced that the Charles Young Community Center — named in the colonel’s honor — has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that recognizes significant historical and cultural resources.
Inducted many years ago as the sixth inductee of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights Gallery of Great Black Kentuckians, Young continues to be a role model for all who seek better lives for themselves and their families by defeating bigotry and discrimination through hard work, faith, talent and perseverance.
In 2011, the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights joined many other groups led by the National Coalition of Black Veterans in adopting a resolution that urges the United States president to posthumously and fittingly award Young the rank of brigadier general.
We urge Kentuckians to contact their U.S. senators and representatives to encourage the president to do so.
John Johnson is the executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights and an honorary Buffalo Soldier.