Col. Charles Young’s honorary doctorate degree will soon hang in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corp. classroom at Mason County High School.
Young was honored with the degree posthumously by Wilberforce University recently.
The honorary degree was given to Col. Thomas Cordingly, who oversees the MCHS JROTC program. The JROTC is named for Col. Young.
Cordingly said the degree has not yet been placed on the wall, as he plans to hold a ceremony at a later date.
“We went to Wilberforce University’s graduation last year,” Cordingly said. “Col. Young attended that university. Teddy Roosevelt wanted (Young) to fight with him, but the Army didn’t think he was fit. In response, he rode his horse from Wilberforce to Washington D.C. to prove he was fit to return to the Army and he was reinstated.”
Cordingly said he has been working with a group of several people who have attempted to have Young posthumously raised in rank to that of a brigadier general.
“He was on track to be promoted, but they didn’t give him the rank because of the color of his skin,” Cordingly said.
According to Cordingly, he does not know why the MCHS JROTC program was chosen to display the degree, but he was happy to do so.
“I don’t know why they gave it to us, but we’re absolutely delighted,” he said. “(Former Mason County Judge-Executive) (Buddy) Gallenstein was the one who received it with the understanding it be passed along to us. We’re pleased they did so.”
Sheet music composed by Young was also donated to the MCHS orchestra program, according to program coordinator Charlie Hunter.
Hunter said the sheet music was discovered in the Wilberforce University archives and passed along to him.
“We were happy to receive copies of the music,” Hunter said. “We’ve all learned about (Young) at some point. I have orchestra and choir students who are also in JROTC, so they know about Young, but it will be nice for all of my students to see someone who has a local connection that was not only military, but also musically inclined.”
According to Hunter, the music is in two volumes and includes several types of music.
“There are vocal compositions and some that were written for violin and piano,” he said. “It’s a good bit of music.”
Hunter said he hopes to have his students perform some of the pieces later.
“I’d like to see them perform some of these pieces at a concert later,” he said.
Young was born in 1864 in a log cabin in May’s Lick. He and his parents later relocated to Ripley, Ohio. At age 17, he graduated from integrated high school in 1881 and taught at the African-American elementary school in Ripley for two years, according to information from the university.
In 1883, Young took the entrance examination to the United States Military Academy at West Point and scored second highest on the exam. The following year, he gained entrance as the ninth African-American to attend West Point and the third to graduate. He received his diploma and commission in 1889.
According to buffalosoldier.net, Young’s first assignment after graduation was with the Buffalo Soldiers in the 10th Cavalry in Nebraska, and then in the ninth and 10th Cavalries in Utah.
Because of his exceptional leadership of the 10th Cavalry in the Mexican theater of war, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and was briefly Fort Huachuca’s commander in Texas.
Young was the highest-ranking African-American officer in the army when World War I started. He was also the first African-American to reach that rank in the army.
On June 22, 1917, Young was retired. Later reinstated, he died at his post in Liberia on Jan. 8, 1922, while on a research expedition in Lagos, Nigeria.
He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.