LOUISVILLE, Ky. — As Kentucky continues its observance of Black History Month, Gov. Andy Beshear joined Col. Charles Young’s family members to celebrate the U.S. Department of Defense approving a posthumous honorary promotion of Young to the grade of brigadier general.
“I first learned about Brigadier General Charles Young from my grandfather; he knew the importance of remembering and honoring your roots,” said Lyndsay Railey, a member of Young’s family who joined the celebration with her mother, Susan Young Tabler, and her son, Elijah Railey. “Our ancestor’s heroic actions have always been a source of pride for the Young family. We are thankful that his service is finally being recognized on a state and federal level. A sincere thank you to Charles Blatcher and Gov. Andy Beshear for making today a reality.”
Joining Gov. Beshear and Young’s family for the celebration were, among others, Rev. Dr. James Thurman, Kentucky state commander, National Association for Black Veterans; Deputy Secretary of the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Lt. Col. Keith Jackson, USA, Retired; Charles Blatcher III, chairman, National Coalition of Black Veterans Organizations; Maj. Gen. Johnny K. Davis, commanding general, U.S. Army Cadet Command and Fort Knox, Kentucky; Col. Mark Thompson, deputy chief of staff, U.S. Army Recruiting Command; Congressman John Yarmuth; Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer; Secretary of the Executive Cabinet J. Michael Brown; Maj. Gen. Haldane B. Lamberton, Adjutant General of Kentucky; Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Whitney Allen; Aukram Burton, executive director, Kentucky Center for African American Heritage; Mason County Judge/Executive Owen McNeill; and Raoul Cunningham, president, Louisville Branch NAACP.
The Montford Point Marine Association presented the colors, Julia Ralston performed the national anthem and the 202nd Army Band of the Kentucky National Guard performed The Army Song.
A general officer personal flag with one star, denoting the rank of brigadier general, was unrolled in Young’s honor and placed on display as part of his exhibit at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage. The center also received the honorary promotion certificate from Gov. Beshear’s posthumous promotion of Col. Young to the honorary rank of brigadier general in the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 2020.
Last February, the Governor sent a letter to President Joe Biden encouraging him to promote Young within the U.S. Army. In a letter dated Nov. 1, 2021, Under Secretary of Defense Gilbert Cisneros Jr. informed the chairs of the U.S. House and Senate Armed Services committees of his decision to approve the request and Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth informed Charles Young’s family of the promotion on Jan. 19, 2022.
“Charles Young was a pioneer, especially in his military career, but also throughout his life,” said Gov. Beshear. “I was honored to promote Col. Young to brigadier general in the commonwealth two years ago, and I am pleased to announce that the honor has now been extended to the entire U.S. Army.”
While Gov. Beshear’s promotion of Young to brigadier general is recognized only in the commonwealth, the promotion by the Army provides national recognition of service by some of the earliest Black officers in our nation’s armed forces.
“Today we are focusing on the celebration of a true American hero who not only overcame numerous life-altering obstacles but accomplished legacy driven achievements because of them,” said Lt. Col. Keith Jackson, USA, Retired, Deputy Secretary of the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.
Charles Young was born in Mays Lick, Kentucky, in Mason County, to enslaved parents in 1864. He valued education throughout his life and graduated with honors from high school in Ohio, where his parents escaped slavery.
Young taught elementary school and eventually entered the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, where he was the academy’s third Black graduate. He went on to become the first Black military attaché to a foreign country and served in various assignments from Haiti and Liberia to Mexico and Nigeria. When he was medically discharged from active duty, Young was the highest-ranking Black officer in the military, having been promoted to colonel.
Following his death, Young was given full military honors and burial in Arlington National Cemetery, where Americans can remember his legacy as a leader, his perseverance despite obstacles and his heroic example to others.
“The promotion was pursued as an act of faith demonstrated through persistence,” Blatcher said. “It would not have been possible without the support and participation of many people. They believed like me that one day this would happen. Each have left a fingerprint on this project and a handprint on my heart. I salute you all. And Governor, we salute you.”
“What a significant moment to celebrate today – the posthumous promotion of Col. Charles Young to brigadier general! A man worthy of such an honor because of his perseverance, academic leadership, spirit of excellence and devotion to duty,” Maj. Gen. Davis, said. “As a soldier, diplomat and civil rights leader, Young made great strides for all, paving the way for future generations of leaders to excel.”
“Like so many heroes who have gone before us, Col. Young’s achievements continue to inspire and motivate current and future generations of soldiers in our great Army,” Col. Thompson, said. “We’re especially grateful for those who have seen fit to make this posthumous promotion to brigadier general a reality.”
“Charles Young’s life was the embodiment of perseverance, and any one single chapter of his story would be remarkable on its own,” Congressman Yarmuth said. “The heroism and selflessness he displayed throughout a life of service—all in the face of rampant racism and bigotry—is a testament to his dedication not only to his country but also his fellow man. No matter the test, Charles maintained the mettle and courage to carry on. I’m thrilled that this long overdue promotion has been granted to a native son of Kentucky, and am so proud to see Brigadier General Charles Young finally get the star he so earned and deserved in life.”
“Charles Young did everything he did at a time when Jim Crow infected almost everything, when laws, institutions and systems were organized against his success and the success of other people of color,” said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. “We are here today for a justice delayed, but no longer denied. Thank you to Gov. Beshear and the countless others who advocated for the promotion of Charles Young, a man who believed a life in the military was the best way for him to serve as a role model for other Black Americans, to impact race in America, and to make our country a better place.”
“Charles Young was not only a dedicated soldier, he was a renaissance man,” Aukram Burton, executive director of the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage said, “Aside from being an outstanding soldier, he was a poet, composer, musician, and playwright. General Young was an accomplished linguist who taught Latin, Greek, French, Spanish and German at historically black Wilberforce University in Ohio, where he became close, lifetime friends with fellow faculty member W.E.B. DuBois. He was personal friends with major thought leaders of his time including W.E.B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, Paul Lawrence Dunbar and others. A quote from W.E.B. DuBois’s eulogy for General Young said, ‘The life of Charles Young was a triumph of tragedy.’ We truly salute him as we celebrate Black History Month throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the nation.”
The Army is tentatively planning a promotion ceremony at the U.S. Military Academy in April.
You can learn more about the life of Charles Young on the National Park Service website.