Honor Sought for the Legendary Col. Charles Young

The National Coalition of Black Veteran Organizations has made it a mission to get the legendary Col. Charles Young the recognition he deserves. Col. Young overcame many odds to rise to the rank of colonel in 1917 despite deeply entrenched inequality in our country. Were it not for racism, the accomplishments of Col. Charles Young would surely have garnered him the title of brigadier general — as it stood, at the time of his death he was the highest-ranking black officer in the Army. We have advocated for many years for his promotion. We are still waiting for responses from correspondence sent to the White House dated Jan. 22, 2013 and May 18, 2015.

We have requested the assistance of retired Gen. Colin Powell in contacting President Obama in support of our request for the honorary promotion. In past correspondence he expressed his intention to pursue the promotion through his channels. We would welcome his intervention. We would like to see the promotion happen before the end of the president’s term in office.

Col. Charles Young (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Col. Charles Young (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

We have succeeded in-part raising public awareness about Col. Young over the years. However, I was reminded of what still needs to be done as I sat in the airport in Washington DC awaiting a flight to Ohio. I had the pleasure of speaking with a gorgeous African–American sister name Glenda, who like myself was waiting for an early morning flight. As conversations go, she inquired about the nature of my travels to Washington. I spoke about our advocacy on the behalf of Col. Charles Young. I mentioned some of the facts associated with his history; highest ranking Black Soldier in the Armed Forces during the era of his service; first Black superintendent of a national park and third Black graduate of West Point Military Academy. Hearing the part about West Point she acknowledged that she was a graduate of the academy. However, she had never heard of Col. Charles Young. She Googled his name as we spoke. When it came-up she responded with “there he is.” As we parted ways, the conversation was a reminder to me that we still have a long ways to go in educating the public about the, man, the mission and the facts as they relate to his history. One would think there would be some kind of acknowledgement of his service at the Academy along with Henry O. Flipper, John Alexander and Benjamin O. Davis Jr.

Over the past months, our focus has been on pre-planning the stage production titled “The Legendary Colonel Charles Young: The Man, the Mission and the Facts.” On my recent trip to Washington, I was joined by John M. Young, descendant of the colonel, historian Brian Shellum, author of “Black Officer in a Buffalo Soldier Regiment: The Military Career of Charles Young,” Michael Thread, former president of the DC Chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers and Jack Evans, member of our national coalition in a tour of the Lincoln Theater. The fully-restored luxury theater is located on Washington’s “Black Broadway.” In its heyday, it was the place for people to go and see performers like Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. The theater is under consideration as the venue for the 2017 Washington DC presentation.

Retired Lieutenant General Arthur Gregg and I met with staff from the “Pershing Own” United States Army Band to discuss their possible participation in the production. In addition, I had the pleasure of meeting with the director of the National Park Foundation, Muhammad Rashid Abhud. The Foundation is on-board in support of the proposed production. I also paid a courtesy call on Maj. Gen. Errol Schwartz, commanding general of the District of Columbia National Guard.

Before departing Washington, I met with Congressman Charlie Rangel to discuss all of the developments in the continuing quest to get Col. Young his due. He promised to follow up with Congresswoman Barbara Lee and other members of congress on the request that he and thirty-four other members of Congress signed and sent to the President on our behalf on Feb. 15, 2013. He also mentioned his desire to seek a Congressional Gold Medal for Col. Young. We are encouraging everyone to contact their representatives in support of it.

The visit to the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce, Ohio, was an experience of a lifetime. I shared the occasion with Doctors Charles Wash, Floyd Thomas, archivist Shelley Smith, and Jerry Gore and James “Buddy” Gallenstein members of the Maysville Cabin Project. Volumes of musical compositions, poetry, plays, sketches and correspondence to and from notables of the day such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Theodore Roosevelt. The repository has the largest volume of information available on Col. Charles Young in the country.

We are extremely enthusiastic about moving ahead with the proposed production. It provides another opportunity to promote, and educate the public about the outstanding history of the legendary Buffalo Soldier. The production will present the talents of Col. Young beyond being an exemplary Soldier. We plan to present his history using his music compositions and poetry to add his personal touch to the presentation. We are proposing the production as a fundraiser to assist the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center and the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument both located in Wilberforce, Ohio and the Maysville, Kentucky, Cabin Restoration Project. The institutions have pledged their support for our efforts.

We welcome the opportunity to work on something where so much material exists in a central location. Musical Composer/Arranger James Gardiner of PajamaStudio and BlaqueIce Recording Studio has come aboard to arrange the musical compositions for an orchestra presentation. There are excited about the idea of establishing the soundtrack for the colonel’s life from his own musical compositions.

In addition to the drive to get Young elevated to brigadier general, the Coalition plan to resume efforts to identify a location in the District of Columbia to have a statue erected depicting the colonel on horseback. A smaller maquette of the proposed statue will be donated to the National Afro American Museum on June 1, 2016 to hold for future installation into the National Monument. We are hopeful one day a bronze statue of Col. Young will stand alongside all of our other American heroes. The statue will be symbolic of the patriotism and honor of all the Black Troops who served during the era of the World War I.

Blatcher is chairman of the National Coalition of Black Veteran Organizations.

Blatcher is chairman of the National Coalition of Black Veteran Organizations.

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