Charles Young

Portrait of Charles Young in Army uniform and officers hat.
"Yours for Race and Country, Charles Young." 22 Feby., 1919.

Library of Congress

Quick Facts

Charles Young overcame stifling inequality to become a leading figure in the years after the Civil War when the United States emerged as a world power. His work ethic, academic leadership, and devotion to duty provided a strong base for his achievements in the face of racism and oppression. His long and distinguished career as a commissioned officer in the United States Army made him a popular figure of his time and a role model for generations of new leaders.

In 1883, Charles Young took the entrance examination to the United States Military Academy at West Point. He entered West Point on June 10, 1884 to become only the ninth African American to attend the Academy and only the third to graduate. 

As a cadet, Young encountered the same racial insults and social isolation from instructors and other cadets on a daily basis as those before him. Despite these indignities, he would persevere. After a dreadful first academic year, Young was faced with repeating his first year, or Plebe year, in order to continue his education. He would do so and did well over the next four academic years. Faced with a failing grade in an engineering class during his last semester, Young received tutoring from his instructor and was allowed to re-take the exam. This time, Young passed and was awarded his diploma and commission in the summer of 1889.

Because military leaders would not allow an African-American officer to command white troops, the Adjutant General's Office waited three months after Young's graduation before assigning the newly-commissioned 2nd Lieutenant to the 9th Cavalry at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. After a year, marked by isolation and hostility, Young transferred to Fort Duchesne, Utah, where the command and fellow officers proved more welcoming. 

Between 1889 and 1907 Young served in the 9th Cavalry at western posts and rose to the rank of captain. In the fall of 1894, Charles Young received a detached service assignment that wound up sending him to Wilberforce, Ohio. Young was to take over the planning and eventual teaching of the new Military Sciences & Tactics courses at Wilberforce University. Lieutenant Charles Young became one of the distinguished professors at the university around the turn of the century.

In 1904 Captain Young became the first Military Attaché to Haiti and the Dominican Republic on the island of Hispaniola. From 1912 to 1916, he served as the military attaché to Liberia, helping to train the Liberian Frontier Force. During the same period, Young won additional promotions, to major in 1912, and to lieutenant colonel in 1916. 

In July 1917, Young was medically retired and promoted to colonel in recognition of his distinguished Army service.