Colonel Charles Young: Black National Park Superintendent


When the new military superintendent for the summer of 1903 arrived in Sequoia National Park he had already faced many challenges. Born in Kentucky during the Civil War, Charles Young had early set himself a course that took him to places where a black man was not often welcome.

He was the first black to graduate from the white high school in Ripley, Ohio, and through competitive examination he won an appointment to the US Military Academy at West Point in 1884.

He went on to graduate with his commission, only the third black man to do so. Later he would remark that the worst he could wish for an enemy would be to make him a black man and send him to West Point.

His military career progressed in the cavalry. In 1903, he was serving as a Captain in the Cavalry commanding a segregated black company at the Presidio of San Francisco when he received orders to take his troops to Sequoia National Park for the summer.

In May, 1903, Sequoia National Park was already thirteen years old but still under-developed and hard to visit.

Since 1891, the management and development of the park had been the responsibility of the US Army, but owing to a lack of Congressional funding almost nothing had been done.

The biggest lack in the park was an adequate wagon road to the Giant Forest, the home of the world's largest trees.

Army work on a road had begun in the summer of 1900, but progress had lagged. In three summers barely five miles of road had been constructed.