Following the Underground Railroad: Charles Young

charles young birthplace buses OLLI

The Underground Railroad may seem like distant history, but the folks at Freedom Time Heritage Tours in Maysville, Kentucky, bring it to life, here and now, with their excellent tours.

The OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) at the University of Kentucky sponsored one of Freedom Time’s tours for its members in November, 2015.  Demand was so great that they had to add a second bus.

Historian Jerry Gore and Peggy Overly, with Freedom Time Heritage Tours, invite us to “cross into the danger zone.  Steal away with us as we retrace the path to freedom for human justice and dignity in this daylong Underground Railroad experience. We will explore the secret hiding places and the trails that were used by enslaved Africans and conductors of the Underground Railroad.” This daylong immersion into history will begin with a visit to the Maysville National Underground Railroad Museum. We will then cross the river to Ripley, OH to visit the homes of John P. Parker and Reverend John Rankin, two of the most daring conductors on the railroad who assisted over 3,000 slaves on their journey to freedom. Presentations and discussions, highlighted with spirituals, will engage participants as together we explore the flight for freedom. A lunch buffet will be created for us by the students of the Maysville Community and Technical College Culinary Arts Program.

We loaded up early on a rainy morning in Lexington and headed north.  Here are excerpts from my journal of the trip:

Traveling the underground railroad today.  Up at 5:30 a.m.!

Mays Lick, Kentucky

We appear to be in Mays Lick, Kentucky.   🙂

Our first stop on the tour was the Charles Young birthplace about 3 miles southeast of Mays Lick.

charles young historical marker OLLI

Third Negro to graduate from West Point Military Academy. Colonel, United States Army. Distinguished for his service in Haiti and Liberia as a military organizer, map maker and road builder.

As impressive as the information on the historical marker is, there was so much more to Charles Young.  He had an amazing life and I hope more people will hear his story.  Here are a few more highlights of his life:

  • born into slavery in 1864
  • spoke several languages and played several musical instruments
  • first black U.S. national park superintendent
  • responsible for extending the road that opened up the Redwood National Forest to wagons and automobiles in 1903
  • first black military attaché
  • first black to achieve the rank of colonel
  • led a cavalry pistol charge against Pancho Villa’s forces in 1916, routing the opposing forces without losing a single man
  • served with the Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th and 10th Cavalries

1943 cartoon about the life of Colonel Charles Young, by Charles Alston (1907-1977). U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (Public Domain)

  • taught at Wilberforce College with W. E. B. Du Bois,  who became his close friend
  • highest-ranking black officer in the Regular Army until his death in 1922
  • removed from active duty at the start of WWI to block his promotion to brigadier general
  • died in Liberia and buried in Arlington National Cemetery
  • obituary carried in the New York Times
  • honored in Lexington with the Charles Young Community Center

charles young birthplace OLLI

charles young portrait OLLI

walking to charles young house november 2015 OLLI




window in charles young birthplace OLLI

jerry gore november 2015

Jerry Gore of Freedom Time Heritage Tours

I’m just covering the first stop of our full-day Underground Railroad bus trip in this post.  I’ll continue with our stops in Washington and Maysville, Kentucky, and Ripley, Ohio, in a later post.  (It was a wonderful day!)

8 thoughts on “Following the Underground Railroad: Charles Young

  1. Wonderful start to your Underground Railroad narrative.Thank you for introducing me to this man and his amazing story. Seemingly bullet proof. Built the first road through the redwood forest, fought Pancho Villa (although we could have a conversation about the merits of that in another context), rescued Teddy Roosevelt (What a story that must be!). I’m curious how he died in Liberia, at a relatively young age.

    So looking forward to your next installment!


    1. Well, I missed the part about his rescue of Teddy Roosevelt–thanks for catching that! I had to go back and take a closer look at the 1943 cartoon.

      As for the story behind his death in Africa, he was reassigned as military attaché to Liberia in 1919. He was on some sort of reconnaissance mission in Nigeria then he died of a kidney infection there in 1922. He was only 58.

      Liked by 1 person

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