WASHINGTON, D.C. – The University of the District of Columbia moved Tuesday to study the cost of erecting a monument to honor Col. Charles Young — a pioneering Black military leader who supporters say is often overlooked.
At a ceremony attended by elected officials, African-American veterans and representatives of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, the university also announced plans to establish a $500,000 scholarship for veterans in the name of Young, a one-time commander of the Buffalo Soldiers, an all-Black regiment within the U.S. Army.
University officials and supporters say the tandem efforts are meant to right a historical wrong and make higher education more affordable for those who have served in uniform.
“We need to transform education for the veterans because they’ve transformed America for us,” UDC President Dr. Allen Sessoms said at the UDC Theater.
Tuesday’s ceremony was as much a history lesson as it was anything else.
The ceremony was attended by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who both extolled Young for his perseverance in the face of racial discrimination and said he deserved more recognition than he had been given.
“It’s absolutely unconscionable that Charles Young doesn’t have a more prominent place” in history,” Gray said. “It’s only fitting that we have a monument for him.”
Holmes Norton called Young’s career a “saga in military tragedy.”
“Here is a man who gave all he could possibly give to the armed forces of the United States, risking his life time and again, wanting only to serve an Army that wasn’t sure it wanted to serve him,” Holmes Norton said of Young, for whom an elementary school is named in Washington, D.C.
Speaker after speaker recounted how Young who in 1889 became the third African-American to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, repeatedly proved his bravery and leadership.
Born in 1864 in Kentucky to ex-slaves, Young is perhaps best known for his role as commander of the 10th United States Calvary, or the Buffalo Soldiers, an all-Black regiment within the U.S. Army. He later served as a U.S. military attaché in Haiti and Liberia, and also served as professor of military science at Wilberforce University, Ohio.
Among other things, he is credited with routing the forces of Pancho Villa in 1916 in the wake of attacks that Villa had led against Americans and American forces.
But despite his military accomplishments, which many, particularly African-Americans at the time, believed would lead him to receive a major leadership role in World War I, he was met with rejection, being declared as medically unfit.
“That fact alone should tell you something about the era in which he served,” said Charles Blatcher, III, founder and CEO of the National Minority Military Museum Foundation and chairman of the National Veterans Coalition. He was referring to the difficulty with which it would have taken to get a discharge during a time of crisis.
In order to prove he was still fit for duty, Young made his way on horseback from Wilberforce, Ohio, some 500 miles, to Washington, D.C.
“The ride from Ohio to Washington D.C. brought bittersweet results,” a website devoted to Charles Young says. “Young was reinstated and promoted to full colonel, but he was assigned to duty at Camp Grant, Illinois. By the time his reinstatement and promotion were in effect the war was near its end.”
Young’s legacy is celebrated prominently within Omega Psi Phi, which is meeting in Washington, D.C., this week.
Dr. Adam McKee, former vice grand basileus of the fraternity, said Young, an honorary member of the fraternity, embodied its principles of “manhood, scholarship, perseverance and uplift.”
“Colonel Young transcends all ages,” McKee said.
No set timeframe has been set for the UDC study of the feasibility of a monument to Young, and no particular site in Washington, D.C., has been selected.
As for the endowment for the planned Charles Young scholarship fund, UDC officials say they have yet to embark upon a campaign to raise the anticipated $500,000 in scholarship funds.