Charles Young Awarded Posthumous Promotion During Black History Month Event

Feb 11, 2020

This year's annual Black History Month ceremony at the state Capitol saw the awarding of a "long overdue" promotion to a Kentucky native who became the highest-ranking African-American officer during World War I.

Descendants and heirs to Kentucky veteran Charles Young accept a posthumous promotion during the 17th annual Black History Month celebration at the state Capitol on February 2, 2020.
Credit Josh James / WUKY

Charles Young was born into slavery in 1864 but rose to the rank of colonel in the armed forces. Historians believe he might have become the country's first black general if not for health issues and racism within the ranks. Tuesday, Gov. Andy Beshear had an announcement for his heirs.

"I am proud to posthumously promote Charles Young to Brigadier General in the Commonwealth of Kentucky," the Democrat declared. "It is a great honor to recognize General Young for consistently displaying moral courage and selfless service, all while overcoming personal adversity with honor and integrity."

Denese Johnson's fourth grandfather was Young's uncle, and one of the attendees accepting the promotion on Young's behalf.

"It's so emotional for me," she told reporters, tears welling up in her eyes. "For me to be the one chosen to be here. It's just unexplainable. To know all that he did and now he's being acknowledged for it."

The ceremony went on to pay tribute to all black contributions to the U.S. military.

Lawmakers also used the occasion to call for criminal justice reform, legislative action to secure voting rights for former felons, and removal of the statue of Confederate leader Jefferson Davis from the Capitol rotunda.