Charles Young Birthplace
Charles Young' birthplace cabin
Portrait of Charles Young
Backstory and Context
Charles Young was born on March 12, 1864, in Mayslick, KY, which is located in Mason County. Young was born into slavery, at a time when slavery was starting to die out across Kentucky.1 Young was born in a small cabin near the Ohio River to Gabriel Young, who sought freedom for himself and his family by crossing the Ohio River shortly after Charles’ birth. On February 13, 1865, Gabriel Young enlisted in the 5th United States Colored Heavy Artillery in Ripley, Ohio.2 Gabriel Young worked the Underground Railroad along the Ohio River to help slaves escape from Kentucky. After the Young family moved to Ripley, Charles Young was able to attend school and graduated at the top of his class at sixteen years old.3 After graduating from high school, Young had the opportunity to teach at the black high school in Ripley.4
In 1883, Young took an extensive entrance exam for admission to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. He received the second highest score on the exam and was admitted to the military academy.5 Young was determined to complete his education and was committed to serving his country. He endured hazing and racial prejudice while at West Point and became the third African American to graduate from West Point in 1889.6 He was assigned to Nebraska and Utah, where he served with the 10th and 9th U.S. Cavalry, which were known as the “Buffalo Soldiers.”7 Throughout the Spanish American War, Young commanded one of the Ohio Regiment; however, they did not engage in any action.
Several years after the Spanish American War, Young became the first African American superintendent of a National Park, when he oversaw the Sequoia and General Grant National Parks located in California.8 Throughout the early twentieth century, Young served as a military attache to Haiti and served with the 10th Cavalry in the hunt for Poncho Villa along the Mexican border. In 1916, Young was promoted to lieutenant colonel, becoming the first African American colonel in the U.S. Army.9
At the outbreak of World War I, Young was declared medically unfit to serve; however, he proved his fitness by making a 500 mile horse ride from Ohio to Washington, D.C., after which he was promoted to colonel.10 In 1918, Young taught military science at Wilberforce University and, the following year, he was named the attache to Liberia.11 In 1922, he died while visiting Nigeria as the U.S. attache to Liberia and his body was interred with full honors by British troops. His body was returned to the United States one year later and he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with his friend, W.E.B. DuBois, delivering the eulogy.12
Visitors to the historical birthplace can see the restored cabin which Young was born at and see the area where other slave families lived. The site is part of a longer Underground Railroad trail which is located along the Ohio River.