On the Occasion of Unveiling the Maquette of
Col. Charles Young*
By Charles Blatcher, III
Chairman, National Coalition of Black Veteran Organizations
February 28th, 2014
Thirty-six years ago, an advocacy began here in Oakland to raise public
awareness about the importance of minority military participation in the
defense of the nation. I once heard it said, “They write you out of the future by writing you out of the past.” There has been a group of us working for many years determined to not let that happen. The history is too important.
The Black and other Minorities histories in the defense of the nation is the cornerstone of our claim for equal entitlement and opportunities. During the civil right movement of the Civil War Era, Frederick Douglass said, “Strike a blow for freedom.” He understood the importance of our participation.
For 36 years to this date, we have been active in raising public awareness of the importance of the history and promoting its preservation. 30 years ago, we advocated development of a national museum dedicated to multi-cultural history to be located here in Oakland. With the rich diversity of our community, we thought the idea would be a perfect fit. We had joined with the Bay Area Blues Society and the Black Cowboys Association in trying to advance the idea. The subject was ahead of its time. We were talking about something in scope that could attract a national audience. Something that educators, students, and tourist would come to see. For the lack of a better term- A West Coast appendage of the Smithsonian Institute. We asked, “Why Not?” The Smithsonian Institute is a public institution supported in-part by tax dollars. Californians send more money to the Federal Government in taxes than any other State. Why shouldn’t there be an appendage of the nation’s premiere cultural institution on the West Coast? Why not Oakland?
It could be a tremendous economic development project for the City.
Plus, we thought it would be something positive that the entire community could take pride. Years ago, a site study was conducted to identify the most ideal location for the facility. It identified the location of the Henry J.
Kaiser Auditorium enhanced by its proximity to the Museum of California.
The building is vacant. Hopefully, one day we can have a conversation about the possibilities. Today belongs to the legendary Buffalo Soldier,
Educator and Diplomat, Colonel Charles Young.
37 years ago, I had the personal honor of meeting a gentleman name Samuel Waller. Sergeant Waller was the last surviving Black Veteran in the State of California- from the Spanish American War era. Sam had resided in Los Angeles for many years. Blind and at the age of 100, he was no longer able to live alone. He had outlived his family. The State stepped in and resettled him in the Veterans Home in Yountville, California. I went to meet him. Our friendship grew and every weekend I made the trip. Sam loved to talk about his military days. Sam and Captain Charles Young were friends. Sam spoke of him as if he was larger than life. He talked about how the Black Soldiers loved and respected him. Sam said the only thing that stopped Charles Young from being a general was his color. As I learned more about his history, I came to the same conclusion as Sgt. Waller.
Colonel Young was:
-The third Black graduate of West Point Military Academy;
-The first Black Superintendent in the National Park Service;
-The first Black American Military Attaché’ to a foreign government;
-The highest ranking Black Officer in the United States Armed Forces for the greater portion of his military career; ( A career that spanned 33 years.)
-He was promoted to rank of Colonel (the highest rank held by a Black Soldier in that period of history) the same day he was forced into medical retirement. Many people felt then as well as now, that his separation from the service was motivated by the racial practices of that time in American History;
-The Man who walk and rode on horseback from Wilberforce, Ohio to Washington, DC (a distance over 500 miles) to prove his fitness to serve;
-He was recalled to active duty a few days before the Armistice was signed ending World War I.
-Colonel Young died on active duty in 1922. He was laid to rest in Lagos, Nigeria in a burial officiated by British Armed Forces. As a result of the public outcry for his body to be returned to the United States, he was exhumed and reburied at Arlington National Cemetery on June 1st 1923.
The obvious racial injustices committed against Black Soldiers in the separate but not equal Armed Forces is a subject that begs for historical re-dress.
Colonel Charles Young became the standard bearer for the cause.
35 years ago, then Congressman Ronald Dellums took-up our charge to
acquire an honorary promotion for the Colonel to the rank of Brigadier
General. We are most grateful for his contribution to our cause. He
submitted consecutive House Resolutions calling for the promotion, to no
avail. The legislative effort continues now through Congresswoman Barbara Lee. She has been a real champion of our cause. It is unfortunate she was unable to join us today. However, we are extremely appreciative that she sent Ms Katherine Jolly, her deputy director in the District, to represent
her. We are also honored with the presence of Superintendent Frank Dean from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Eduardo Ramirez, Founder, San Francisco Veterans Town Hall Collaborative.
We have called on President Barack Obama to grant the honorary promotion.
He has the authority to make that happen without it creating any financial
outlay or commitment on the Federal Government. It is a symbolic gesture.
The request has been met with actions from the White House that we find
confusing at best. The Colonel’s home was declared a national monument, and named void of mentioning his rank. Rank follows Military Officers to
their graves. We find it difficult to understand how his home rises to the status of a national monument but the man is unworthy of the honorary promotion we are seeking to add to his name.
The maquette we will unveil today has a duplicate on the East Coast. It is the first casting. We have asked the President to accept it as a gift to the nation from the Coalition of Black Veteran Organizations. We had hoped to make the presentation during Black History Month. The request was submitted far in advance of February. It appears the White House is having a difficult time finding us 20 minutes in the President’s schedule. 20 minutes out of eight years does seem to be an excessive request. We are still waiting for an answer.
In the news it has been reported that the White House will present two dozen minority recipients with the Medal of Honor in March. According to the news report, the Pentagon has spent the past dozen years conducting a review of the
files of minority service personnel, to see if any were denied the Medal of
Honor because of race. According to that report, the review came about when Congress ordered the Pentagon to look into whether Hispanic and Jewish members of the Armed Forces had been unfairly passed over for the nation’s highest military award. The time period was set between 1941 and 2001.
According to that news report, Black service personnel were initially excluded in the review process. However they discovered one Black Soldier, Staff Sergeant Melvin Morris who they deemed worthy of the Medal. We assure you more have been overlooked. We wonder how they missed
Dorie Miller, the Black cook who manned the anti-aircraft gun during the
attack on Pearl Harbor and shot down two enemy aircraft.
Segregation and discrimination in the military did not just begin in 1941.
While we applaud the upcoming medal ceremony, what about the 400,000
Blacks who served in World War 1? Those who served in the Infantry
Regiments that saw combat, fought under the command of the French
Government. In addition, the military has acknowledged that over 18 million
service files going back to 1912 were destroyed in a fire that occurred in the
National Personnel Records Center in Saint Louis in 1973. The files of many
Black service personnel who served in World War I, including the file of
Colonel Young were lost. A fact that brings about a few interesting questions!
How can the military evaluate the merit of those individuals service without the files? Henry Johnson, a Black soldier in the 369th Infantry Regiment was the first American awarded the French Croix de Guerre Medal for gallantry in combat in World War 1. By the end of World War, the regiment as a Unit, and one hundred and seventy of its men were awarded that prestigious medal.
They were the highest decorated soldiers of World War 1. Would their deeds serving under the French Command qualify them for Medal of Honor consideration? Who other than the military itself is involved in the review process? We must keep in mind the military is the system that initially overlooked the facts that denied the upcoming Medal recipients the honor in the first place.
Fairness demands that a review commission composed of individuals
independent of the Armed Services participate in the process.
Through the recognition we are seeking for Colonel Young, we are suggesting to the White House a way to simplify the process of re-dress as it relates to the era of World War I. We do not need the files to know that Black service personnel served under separate but not equal conditions. The history and legacy of Colonel Young transcends the single man. The maquette we will unveil is symbolic of the honor and dedication of the Black Americans who served during that time of our nation’s history. A monument erected in our Nation’s Capital can acknowledge the history and serve as re-dress for the Era.
I will conclude my comments by sharing with you the words of the Historian W.E.B. DuBois. He wrote a memorial for Colonel Young that appeared in the February 1922 issue of the Crisis Magazine. He does an excellent job of acquainting you with Colonel Charles Young and that era in American History. Dr. DuBois stated, “The life of Charles Young was a triumph of tragedy. No one ever knew the truth about the Hell he went through at West Point. He seldom even mentioned it. The pain was too great. Few knew what faced him always in his army life. It was not enough for him to do well-he must always do better; and so much and so conspicuously better as to disarm the scoundrels that ever trailed him. He lived in the army surrounded by insult and intrigue and yet he set his teeth and kept his soul serene and triumphed.
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 pygmy 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 “colored officer” he saluted them.
Seldom did he lose his temper, seldom complain.
With his own people he was always the genial, hearty, half-boyish friend. He kissed the girls, slapped the boys on the back, threw his arms about his friends, scattered his money in charity; only now and then behind the Veil did his nearest comrades see the Hurt and pain graven on his heart; and when it appeared he promptly drowned it in his music-his beloved music, which always poured from his quick, nervous fingers, to caress and bathe his soul.
Steadily, unswervingly he did his duty. And Duty to him, as to few modern men, was spelled in capitals. It was his lode-star, his soul; and neither force nor reason swerved him from it. His second going to Africa, after a terrible attack of black water fever, was suicide. He knew it. His wife knew it. His friends knew it. He had been sent to Africa because the Army considered his blood pressure too high to let him go to Europe!
They sent him there to die. They sent him there because he was one of
the very best officers in the service and if he had gone to Europe he could not have been denied the stars of a General. They could not stand a black American General. Therefore, they sent him to the fever coast of Africa.
They ordered him to make roads back in the haunted jungle. He knew
what they wanted and intended. He could have escaped it by accepting
his retirement from active service, refusing his call to active duty and
then he could have lounged and lived at leisure on his retirement pay.
But Africa needed him. He did not yell and collect money and advertise great schemes and parade in crimson-he just went quietly, ignoring appeal and protest.
He is dead. But the heart of the Great Black Race, the Ancient
of Days-the undying and Eternal-rises and salutes his shining memory:
Well done! Charles Young, Soldier and Man and unswerving Friend.
May the following people come forward to assist in the unveiling.
Chairman Howard Jackson
Leonard Lawson, President of BlaqueIce Productions
Superintendent Frank Dean
*The above speech by Charles Blatcher, Chairman, National Coalition of Black Veteran Organizations, was delivered in Oakland, California on February 28, 2014. It is reprinted on the Speech and Black History lanes on the Black Information Highway and The Mid-South Tribune on www.blackinformationhighway.com . You may contact Mr. Blatcher at firstname.lastname@example.org . Welcome, Travelers!
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