On June 22, 1917, Lt. Colonel Charles Young - the highest-ranking African-American in the Army - was forced to retire for health reasons. The following year he rode on horseback 500 miles from his home in Wilberforce, Ohio, to Washington, D.C., to prove his fitness.
Born in Mays Lick, Ky., to ex-slaves in 1864, Young was the third African-American to graduate from West Point. Commissioned a major in the Ninth Ohio Volunteer Infantry in 1889, he distinguished himself as a heroic and talented leader of the Buffalo Soldiers. He also served as a professor of military science at Wilberforce University.
By the time the United States entered World War I, Young was the highest-ranking black officer. Everyone expected him to assume a leadership role in the war in Europe, but when he took his physical, doctors told him his blood pressure was high and the Army forced him to retire.
After making his trip from Ohio to Washington, Young petitioned the Secretary of War for reinstatement and command of a combat unit. He was reinstated and promoted to full colonel.
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