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Col. Young & Booker T. Get Their Props

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When the author pinned the words to the song “Tall Oak Tree” it is for certain he had not seen the Sequoia trees in the Sequoia National Park. Now my editorial is not about the Sequoia trees even though they are majestic and beautiful enough to talk about forever.

I am going to talk about a group of Black men that were there one hundred years ago with the responsibility to care for the trees and what they accomplished. The name of one was Colonel Charles Young and others went by the name of the Buffalo Soldiers.

The year was 1903 when Captain Charles Young, at the time, was appointed the Superintendent of Sequoia and General Grant National Parks, the first Black man to ever hold such an appointment. It was Young and the Buffalo Solders task to develop and protect a new national park that had no roads to its main destination, the giant forest. They did that and more.

When Young and the Buffalo Solders left after his summer appointment was completed the roads, the same ones we ride on today, were complete. A task that is still unmatched today. They did more in the months they were there than all others assigned there before them combined. As is stated in the Sequoia National Parks newsletter: “This was not the toughest challenge these men ever faced.

These men were serving a country that had yet to live up to the ideal of the Gettysburg Address, that all men were created equal.” Young was the third African American to ever graduate from West Point and was born in slavery. After graduating from West Point U. S. Military Academy it is recorded that he said, “ the worst he could wish for an enemy would be to make him a Black man and send him to West Point”.

Now this man, Colonel Young as the commander in charge of the 9th Cavalry, did great things and accomplished much under horrendous odds. Yet when it came time for someone to honor him by naming a Sequoia Tree after him he turned it down and said let us name it after Booker T. Washington.

Why is that so important today to me, and the descendants of the Young and Washington families? This history was lost for one hundred years and due to the diligent research effort of Dr. Floyd Thomas of the National Afro American Museum in Wilberforce, Ohio, many family members from both sides gathered at the Sequoia tree named after Booker T. Washington to begin the beginning all over again with a new sign.

Here was the grand, great grand and great great-grand children of these giants among men. Their history and accomplishments stood as tall as the Great Sequoias. There were hugs and kisses from the Young to Washington family members. The pride was worn on the shoulders of the current National Park Service’s racially diverse staff as they were attentive to everyone’s needs.

Just like the windy element could not destroy the Sequoia which has been recorded to have lived over three thousand years the family members and the National Park Service invite you all to come until the end of time. And although the Park Service does not name trees anymore the current Deputy Director announced they have commissioned the current Superintendent to select an appropriate tree to be named after Colonel Charles Young.

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