Young’s promotion retroactively makes him the first Black American recognized with that rank, the Army said.
The honorary designation, following years of efforts to posthumously promote him, was the focus of an official promotion ceremony at the United States Military Academy at West Point on Friday.
Young’s “promotion today to brigadier general has been a long time delayed, but fortunately for all of us no longer denied,” Under Secretary of the Army Gabe Camarillo said Friday in remarks during the ceremony. Camarillo also praised Young as a “model leader” and called his legacy “frankly inspiring.”
Members of Young’s family were in attendance at the ceremony, including his great niece Renotta Young, who was presented with Young’s posthumous honorary promotion order and certificate, a gold-plated leather belt that general officers wear, and a one-star general officer flag.
“Charles Young weathered social isolation not only at West Point but throughout his military and National Parks career,” Renotta Young recalled in a speech Friday, adding that despite the hardships Young faced, he “managed to love” the American experiment.
“While he felt the sharp sting of discriminatory treatment from his classmates here at West Point, at various points in his career from his superiors also, he did not consign all of White America to the racist side of the ledger,” she added.
Renotta Young told CNN it’s taken half a century to get her uncle promoted to brigadier general, an effort largely driven by her family and the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. in which Young is an honorary member.
“Even though it was long overdue, this was the time it happened, and I think this is the right time for folks to communicate the legacy of his life and what he has done for our country,” she told CNN.
Racism blocked Young’s career path
Young would break another barrier in 1903 when he became the first Black national park superintendent after he and his troops were assigned to manage Sequoia National Park in northern California. He was the first Black military attaché, became the first military attaché to Haiti and the Dominican Republic on the island of Hispaniola in 1904, and was appointed military attaché to Liberia in 1912. He also taught military sciences and tactics at Wilberforce University in Ohio in between his military duties.
Young received additional promotions during his military career, including major in 1912 and lieutenant colonel in 1916, according to NPS. He was medically retired in July 1917 and was promoted to colonel, the first Black man to reach that rank.
It was an attempt to address a long-running stain on the history of the US Army and to honor a man who, as memorialized by DuBois, was a “triumph of tragedy.”
“He was one of the few men I know who literally turned the other cheek with Jesus Christ,” DuBois wrote. “He was laughed at for it and his own people chided him bitterly, yet he persisted. When a white Southern pigmy at West Point protested at taking food from a dish passed first to Young, Young passed it to him first and afterward to himself. When officers of inferior rank refused to salute a ‘n***er,’ he saluted them. Seldom did he lose his temper, seldom complain.”
CNN’s Eva McKend and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.