Charles Young was born into slavery in 1864. But it wasn’t the circumstances of his birth that defined this great man—it was the extraordinary achievements of his life. The first African American Colonel in the United States Army, Young led the Buffalo Soldiers, the United States’ first black cavalry. This week, with help from The Trust for Public Land, President Obama paid tribute to Young’s story by declaring the family home of Colonel Charles Young a National Monument.
Following in the footsteps of his father—who escaped bondage to fight with the Union in the Civil War—Young fought alongside white regiments and he and his men were instrumental in exploring, settling and protecting western lands and national parks. Young was eventually appointed the first black superintendent of the National Park Service, a position which he held until his death with full military honors in 1922.
Colonel Young’s resume is impressive for a person of any background, but even more so for a black man at the turn of the century. Young was only the third African American to graduate from West Point Military Academy, where, in addition to his military training, he mastered multiple languages and musical composition. Upon graduation, he taught science and military tactics at Wilberforce University in Xenia, settling there to raise his family even after receiving a federal appointment under President Roosevelt to serve as military attaché to Haiti and Liberia.
Young’s incredible contributions to American history and our national park system spurred President Obama to choose his home as the site to tell the Buffalo Soldiers story. But there was one problem: the Charles Young House was privately owned. Working with the Omega Psi Phi Friendship Foundation, Inc. and the African American Experience Fund of the National Park Foundation, The Trust for Public Land was able to transfer private ownership of the Charles Young House to the National Park Service, forever preserving our national memory and history.
Young lived and died a hero. We are proud to play a part in preserving his legacy and creating the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument.