May 6, 2000

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A young black man growing up in the U. S. in the years just after the Civil War, even as he often does today, would face the hostility of many whites, from the ugly, taunting voices of the outright racist to the hundreds of subtle pressures aimed at preventing him from bettering his condition. Many would end up dangling from a rope while crosses flamed. Many others would push back, quietly, and with dignity, proving their worth. Others such as Charles Denton Young.

His parents were slaves from Kentucky, his father a veteran of the American Civil War. Born the year before that war's end, Charlie would grow up on the north side of the Ohio River. His maternal grandmother instilled an awareness of the importance of education in him and he graduated high school and went on to Wilberforce University, which hired him to teach after graduation. At the age of twenty he applied to West Point, scoring second highest for the state of Ohio. After enrolling he often faced taunts from fellow cadets and officers. But it was mathematics that finally seemed to doom his military career; he flunked out of school with poor grades. Determined to correct the situation, he hit the books then reapplied and was again accepted into the school, graduating with the rank of Second Lieutenant, only the school's third black graduate.

He was assigned to a black unit, the 9th Cavalry, and posted to Nebraska, then to Utah. He found greater acceptance out on the plains, where performance obviously mattered more than skin color, but suddenly the U. S. was at war with Spain and he was reassigned to training duty at Camp Algers. In Virginia. Old attitudes, dormant in the West, were resurrected. One day a white soldier refused to salute a black officer and his white commander learned of the situation. He brought the two men together, then told Young to take off his uniform jacket, hang it over a chair and stand back. The soldier, now ordered to salute the jacket, complied. Young was then told to put the jacket back on and the soldier told to salute again. Taking the intended point, he obeyed.

Young was awarded a commission as a Major of Ohio volunteers, but not assigned to combat in Cuba. When the war ended he found himself back in Utah, keeping the peace between sheepherders and Indians. Meanwhile he began a lifelong task, mentoring fellow blacks with ability to push themselves towards excellence in the white man's army. He encouraged young Sergeant Major Benjamin O. Davis to
attend Officers Training School. Davis later became the U.S. Army's first black general. As the century turned the Army's greatest need in the first decade and a half would turn out to be flexibility, and Young would be quick on his feet, adapting rapidly with each new challenge. His first mission would be hunting revolutionary forces in the jungles of the politically unsettled Philippines, gathering new skills. And it's there we'll leave him until next week.
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OUTRO For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor

 

© 2000 David Minor / Eagles Byte

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