Undersecretary of the Army Gabe Camarillo hosted a posthumous honorary ceremony to promote Col. Charles Young to brigadier general at the United States Military Academy at West Point on April 29, 2022.
Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth approved the honorary promotion on Oct. 6, 2021, and congratulated the Young family on his trailblazing career, which was marked by his leadership, dedication to duty, and steadfast determination.
“Charles Young was a Soldier, an intellectual, a civil rights pioneer, and a man who loved his family deeply,” said Camarillo. “When I think of Charles Young, the word ‘triumph’ comes to mind. He faced unjust and harrowing circumstances that tested him time and again, but he triumphed.”
Young served honorably in the Army for 38 years. It was fitting to hold the special ceremony at West Point, as he was the third African American to graduate from the academy in 1889.
USMA’s superintendent, Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, shared the stage with Camarillo and talked about the hardship and adversity Young faced as he was subjected to prejudice and racism from his fellow cadets.
“Young reflected on those days at West Point, writing that while, in general, his academy experience was a source of heartache for him, the bright spots and fond memories came from those classmates and instructors who showed him friendship and sympathy,” said Williams.
After graduation, Young went on to serve in cavalry commands, rising from second lieutenant to lieutenant colonel between 1889 and 1917.
In 1903, Young led the prestigious Buffalo Soldiers as the superintendent of Sequoia National Park in Visalia, California, and was in charge of protecting, building, and preserving the historical landmark. Additionally, he served as a military attaché to Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Liberia.
Although Col. Young could have been promoted to general during his lifetime, the racial sentiment of the day forced his premature medical retirement out of fear of an African American officer leading white troops during World War I. Young was medically retired as a colonel in 1917 but was recalled in 1920 to serve as a military attaché to Liberia for a second time. His service record was distinct and historic during a time of segregation.
“While Charles Young may have been constrained and stifled by the age in which he lived, he did not defer his dreams,” said Camarillo. “His promotion to brigadier general has been a long time delayed, but not denied.”
Camarillo went on to explain why diversity is, and always will be, the Army’s greatest strength. When service members of different races, ethnicities, religions, and other characteristics unite for a common mission, the result is a stronger and more effective force. He explained that Young was able to reach so many milestones, including becoming the first African American colonel, during a time when many deemed that accomplishment to be impossible.
Renotta Young, the great niece of Col. Young, became an active advocate for her uncle’s promotion nearly 50 years ago.
She expressed that the Young family does not desert their goals and dreams, no matter how long it may take.
“I was deeply moved when I was informed that the Secretary of the Army approved the promotion of my uncle,” said Young. “Charles Young, by all accounts, was a renaissance man and that is what resonates with people the most. I hope the Army will continue to use this story to make sure their ranks reflect the diversity of our nation.”
Due to the relentless efforts of everyone who supported the Young family to ensure that this well-deserved promotion finally came to fruition, Col. Young’s legacy will live on. His lifelong commitment to serving provided a tangible and significant impact on the Army and national defense.
“We remember Col. Charles Young as a leader of character who lived honorably, led honorably, and demonstrated excellence in all his endeavors,” said Williams. “He holds an honored place on West Point’s Long Gray Line and still inspires generations of Soldiers and officers today as an exemplar of Army values and the West Point ideals of duty, honor, and country.”