BLACK FIRSTS Rewind Black To Today

Rewind Black to Today in 1922, Charles Young, First African-American to Achieve the Rank of Colonel Dies

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Birth, Early Life, and Education

Charles Young was born as a slave in 1864 in Mays Lick, KY. In 1865 Charles’ father Gabriel escaped and settled in Ripley, OH after crossing the Ohio River. It was there that Gabriel enlisted in the Fifth Regiment of Colored Artillery close to the Civil War’s end. Due to his service Gabriel was able to earn freedom for himself and his wife Arminita. Charles’ parents settled in Ripley after his father was discharged from the military in 1866. A postwar bonus afforded the family enough money to buy land and build a home. Growing up Charles attended a high-school that was all white and he graduated at the top of his class in 1880. After graduating he taught at a new high school in Ripley that was all black for several years.


Young took an exam in 1883 to become a cadet at the West Point United States Military Academy and reported to West Point in 1884. In 1889 he graduated as a second lieutenant and was the third African-American man to accomplish it at the time. Young was assigned to the Tenth U.S. Cavalry Regiment and then reassigned to the ninth cavalry. In 1904 he married his wife Ada Mills in Oakland, CA.

Military Service

Young took many different military assignments during his career. He was a military science professor at a historically black college, the superintendent of several national parks, a military intelligence officer, and a military attaché. As World War I was starting Charles was in line to a promotion as brigadier general. However, many white officers resisted the possibility of being outranked by a Black man and complaints to the Secretary of War and the War Department were filed. Newton Baker, the Secretary of War, removed Charles from active duty because he knew that the backlash of having White officers serving under an African-American would be too great. To stop Young’s promotion Newton placed him on the inactive list temporarily due to high blood pressure on June 22, 1917. Young retained the rank of Colonel.

Honors and Legacy

On January 8, 1922 Young died on a Nigerian reconnaissance mission from a kidney infection. His remains were returned to the United States and he was given a military funeral. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Young died as a respected figure both in his personal life and in service.

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