The National Park Service on Tuesday celebrated the preservation of the home and the story of a man who was born to enslaved parents and went on to become the first African American to achieve the rank of colonel in the U.S. Army.
Col. Charles Young’s home, 1120 US Route 42 East, was designated last week by President Barack Obama as the 401st national park site. Although the home’s opening to the public is still at least two years away, the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument is expected to draw 125,000 visitors annually, create jobs and help support the local economy.
“These monuments are hugely significant and they’re economic engines for the local community,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who visited as part of a five-state tour of new parks sites.
“We can absolutely document that for every $1 we invest in a place like this, there is $4 in return to the economy,” added National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis.
Celebrating Young’s life is also an important part of the effort to better tell the complete story of America’s history, an effort that Salazar said is lacking.
Young served during difficult and racially tense times, according to the White House. He was the highest ranking African American commanding officer from 1894 until his death in 1922 and served nearly his entire military career with the all-black 9th and 10th Calvary regiments, often called “Buffalo Soldiers.” He was the third African American to graduate from West Point in 1889 and the last African American to complete West Point until 1936, the first African American superintendent of a national park and the fourth soldier to be honored with a funeral service at the Arlington Amphitheater before being buried in Arlington Cemetery.
“He was kind of the torchbearer for African Americans in the military,” said local historian Brian Shellum. “He achieved his greatness during Jim Crow, so his story was kind of lost. It’s important that we tell his story and that we rediscover his story.”
Young purchased the home, which was part of the Underground Railroad, when he became professor of tactics and military science at Wilberforce University in 1894. It was there that he hosted famous Dayton poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and philosopher W.E.B. Dubois.
The house will have to be assessed to ensure it can handle visitors and meets fire protection codes before it is opened to the public, said Acting Park Superintendent Reginald Tiller. The roof and water in the basement will also have to be addressed. Obama’s budget, which will be released next week, outlines funding for the site.
Tiller said he will work to connect with local elementary schools and the ROTC to share the story of Young’s leadership.
“The power of this place will inspire a whole new generation,” Jarvis said.