Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument is a bit unremarkable. Declared a national monument by President Obama in 2013, it is located at the home of Colonel Charles Young in the small town of Wilberforce, Ohio. Right now the visitor center is located a local library. His home is closed for renovation, hopefully to be reopened in 2023 for the park’s 10th anniversary.
So why visit? The history is remarkable. Of course, you can read all about it on the National Park Service website, or on Wikipedia or some other on-line source, but would you? We certainly would not have known anything about Charles Young and his amazing story if we had not visited the national monument.
Born into slavery, Charles Young was the third African American to graduate from West Point and went on to have a long and illustrious military career, including many years teaching military tactics in Wilberforce College where he led the military sciences department.
But it was not an easy road. He faced racism and discrimination at every turn. You see photos of him in West Point, lined up on his own behind the white students, and hear the stories of the extreme “hazing” he was subject to. You hear of his great postings – out west to protect settlers and native Americans, his work at Sequoia National Park, and his time overseas assigned to Liberia as an attache. But then you begin to detect the undertones… because of racism, African Americans were assigned to posts like these specifically to keep them out of battles, away from the front lines where whites might have to report to them. Only when they were really needed did African Americans get called to the front lines.
In the face of all this, Charles Young persevered. Not only did he graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point, he went on to become the first African American to be a US National Park Superintendent, the first to be a military attaché, and the first to achieve the rank of colonel. He was the highest-ranking black officer in the military until his death in 1922 and posthumously was promoted to Brigadier General. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC.
His story is truly inspirational.
Most of Charles Young’s career was with African American regiments, or Buffalo Soldiers, given this nickname because of their curly dark hair. Established in 1866 with six black regiments, African American troops served in every US conflict up until the Korean war in 1951 when the military was finally integrated. (We learned about this at Port Chicago – also some really interesting history.)
You can walk through nine decades of their military service and accomplishments at Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument.
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