THE LIFE OF A BLACK OFFICER IN A BUFFALO SOLDIER REGIMENT 1
THELIFE OF A BLACK OFFICER IN A BUFFALO SOLDIER REGIMENT
TheLife of a Black Officer in a Buffalo Soldier Regiment
Authorityof the Author
Authorshave different intentions when composing their pieces of work. In hisbook, Black Officer in a Buffalo Soldier Regiment: The MilitaryCareer of Charles Young, Brian Shellum examines the sympatheticbiography of Colonel Charles Young, An African-American soldier whoraised through the ranks of his military career. The authority of anauthor is instrumental in making his work credible and gaininginfluence over other works in the field. Shellum commands authorityand attention in his works through his biography, prowess, and lovefor military history.1As a historian, the author is passionate about the lives of blacksoldiers, military attaches, and key figures of intelligence. Inaddition to his love for military memoirs, Shellum served as a seniorintelligence officer with the Department of Defense. He was a keyfigure and participant in the Joint Improvised Explosive DeviceDefeat Organization for more than ten years.
Shellumalso served as a government historian at the Defense IntelligenceAgency. Before his retirement from the army, he left behind a legacyof dedicated service in various troop assignments and as an attaché.Besides, she is the author of several books on military topics basedon biographies of notable black soldiers.2His credentials, therefore, gives impact to his works. An insidercould well articulate the terminologies, culture, and flow of ideasin the book.
Narrativeand Main Themes
CharlesYoung graduated from West Point, and he rose gradually through theranks of coveted military ranks. After serving in the regular army,he got the chance to join the Tenth Calvary Unit whose members werecommonly referred to as Buffalo Soldiers. For the three decades thatYoung dedicated his service to the country, he was involved inPhilippine Insurrection and also worked as a military attaché inHaiti and Liberia. He also got a stinch to patrol national parks andIndian residences.3
Asobserved in his career, it is evident that Young did not find a placein any deployment that would have put him in command over whitesoldiers. The officer also experienced open discrimination from whiteofficers of similar ranks when they had to carry out troopactivities. The five years of discrimination in college would becontinued in the field that was dominated by white officers. AsShellum puts it, “If he thought life would be easier or less biasedin the regular army, he was in for a rude awakening.”4The author depicts an era when the military was used as an agent toperpetuate racial discrimination in spite of the officers havingsimilar qualifications. As a pioneer high-ranked black officer, heworked with Booker T. Washington and William Dubois. However, thepicture of his character could not be well narrated by the blacksoldiers who he commanded since they were few. His frail health andracial intolerance made the senior officers deny him command, and heended his three-decade military career.
Variousthemes are evident in the book. It is evident that racialdiscrimination extended beyond the social spheres to the closelyguarded military tradition.5Despite his notable achievements, Young did not rise beyond the rankof a colonel. He was the third Black Graduate at West point and thefirst African-American park superintendent. He was also the mostdecorated Black officer in the regular army. Without regard to theaccolades, he was not allocated troop duties that would see himexercise control over the white officers. According to Shellum, theDepartment of Defense allocated him duties that were deemedappropriate for a typical Black American.6
Young’shard work was evident by performing exemplarily in any assignment.According to the author, the white officers despised being led by anAfrican-American and it explains why they sent Young to serve in theBlack Calvary Unit. Contrary to their expectation, he performed well,and his leadership skilled spurred hatred among them.7According to Shellum, “The army showed little concern for thereputation of the Regiment but great fear that a black officer mightend up commanding White troops.”8Were it not for the racial prejudice, Young could have probably beenthe first African-American general in the army.
Theissue of a biased and obscure history also comes to light in thisbook. According to the author, little is known about Young becausehistorians have scantly written about him. The suppressive historyfails to pay tribute to great African-Americans who played asignificant role in serving the country by defying the odds ofracism. Authors have also been ignorant on the biographies of blacksoldiers. Shellum confesses that obtaining information on Young’smilitary proved to be difficult due to the absence of auxiliaryworks. However, he hopes that with the book shedding light on Young,the American pantheon will place him in his rightful position amongother white decorated officers.
Receptionand Impact of the Book
Shellum’swork was received with mixed feelings by the audience. Just like hisprevious works that sought to bring to light the lives of forgottenheroes, the public expected another thrilling story that would pointout the discrepancies that existed in the country. Also, his passionfor black soldiers heightened the expectation of another revelationthat would depict the inadequacies in the recorded history. TheJournal of American History regarded the book as a welcome additionto the recent studies conducted on black military experience. Thejournal authors shared similar sentiments with Shellum that the lackof accurately recorded history of black soldiers makes it difficultto compile substantive biographies.
Inaddition, the Kentucky Historical Society hailed the author forsolidly revealing an important figure in the American history. Thebody recommends it to those with interest in military history. TheArmy Historical Foundations recognized the piece of work in its 2010biography awards category. Professionals in the field regard it as aneye opener for the long perpetuated inequality that extended to allsocial circles. Gregory Urwin, a history professor at TempleUniversity, hails Shellum for unearthing the inequalities of theAmerican Jim Crow Army. William Gwaltney, the former president of theAssociation of African Museums, terms it as an important contributiontowards the untouched history.
Thebook stands out as the best on the topic. The rationale for this isthat there is no other author who has extensively presented thebiography of Charles Young like Shellum did. Although the primarysources were scant, the author used networks and institutionalrepositories to put together a factual history of the unsung hero. Inspite of the truth that the biography might seem to criticize thestructures that existed when Young served in the army, it is worthnoting that Shellum does not give a personal opinion but presentscontextual facts. A reader with a thirst for knowledge onunrecognized black soldiers who defied odds to render credible to thecountry would find this copy an interesting source of invaluableinformation.
Clegg,Claude. "Black Officer in a Buffalo Soldier Regiment: TheMilitary Career of Charles Young (review)." Registerof the Kentucky Historical Society108, no. 3 (2010): 296-298.
Cunningham,Roger D. A review of the book "Black Officer in a BuffaloSoldier Regiment: The Military Career of Charles Young," byBrian G. Shellum is presented. Journalof America`s Military Past Winter2011,36, no. 1, (2011): p67
Jensen,Geoffrey, ed. TheRoutledge Handbook of the History of Race and the American Military.New York: Routledge, 2016.
Shellum,Brian. BlackOfficer in a Buffalo Soldier Regiment: The Military Career of CharlesYoung.University of Nebraska Press, 2010.
Davis,Stanford. SenateResolution 97 Honoring the Buffalo Soldiers And Colonel CharlesYoung,2011.
1 Clegg, Claude. "Black Officer in a Buffalo Soldier Regiment: The Military Career of Charles Young (review)." Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 108, no. 3 (2010): 297
2 Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 297
3 Shellum, Brian (Black Officer in a Buffalo Soldier Regiment: The Military Career of Charles Young. University of Nebraska Press, 2010), 102
5Jensen, Geoffrey, ed. (The Routledge Handbook of the History of Race and the American Military. New York: Routledge, 2016), 18
6 Shellum, 21
7 Cunningham, Roger D. A review of the book "Black Officer in a Buffalo Soldier Regiment: The Military Career of Charles Young," by Brian G. Shellum is presented. Journal of America`s Military Past Winter2011, 36, no. 1, (2011): p67
8 Shellum, 22