By John Michael Spinelli/Examiner
Ken Salazar, the outgoing Director of the Department of the Interior [DOI], ended his weeklong celebration of five new national monuments Monday in Wilberforce, Ohio, southeast of Dayton, where he toured the home of Colonel Charles Young, the third African-American to graduate from West Point.
Born into slavery from parents who escaped from Kentucky to Ripley, Ohio, Col. Young moved into the house now called the Colonel Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in 1884.
Secretary Salazar, a former U.S. Senator from Colorado who President Obama picked to lead DOI during his first term, will make way for his successor, Sally Jewell, who awaits confirmation by the Senate, which DOI staff said could arrive as early as next week.
Holding what he said would be his final media conference, Secretary Salazar, who wore his customary cowboy boots and a dark blue suit with western-style accents, but who said he left his customary white cowboy hat at his ranch in Colorado, said Ms. Jewell's biggest challenge going forward will be dealing with a Congress captivated by cutbacks on a department whose range of responsibilities includes oil drilling permits, managing over 400 national parks and new sources of green energy like wind and solar, among its many other duties.
Responding to a question from CGE about his experience with the BP Deep Horizon oil rig that erupted in the Gulf of Mexico and the recent oil spills in Arkansas and Minnesota, and whether President Obama should approve or disapprove of the XL oil pipeline that played an important role in last year's presidential election, Sec. Salazar emphasized the green energy jobs created during the president's first term, while offering a deflected comment on the pipeline.
Secretary Salazar said that now that President Obama has the information he needs, he'll make the right decision. The pipeline became a bone of contention between the White House and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Romney and Republicans said the XL pipeline linking Canada with Houston, Texas should be completed without question. The White House has said it was listening to local governors, who expressed concerns about the pipeline and any ruptures from it that could effect ground water, while waiting for a report from the State Department.
Watch Secretary Salazar and National Parks Service Director Jarvis speak on "60 Seconds Ohio" on YouTube
Secretary Salazar and NPS Director Jarvis were joined by representatives from the National Park Foundation and the Trust for Public Land, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity members and local officials and community members. State Senator Chris Widen [R-Springfield] was also on hand to greet the secretary and witness the celebration at Central State University that followed Mr. Salazar's tour of the Col. Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument, the nation's 401st national park.
The site commemorates Colonel Charles Young, who achieved distinction in the late 19th and early 20th as an African American army officer. Colonel Young was the ninth African American to attend West Point but the third one to graduate it. He went on to become the first African-American to achieve the rank of colonel.
"In both his military and civilian activities, Colonel Charles Young overcame countless obstacles and demonstrated extraordinary character at a time when inequality and prejudice was a way of life," Salazar said. "This addition to the National Park System not only tells the important story of this pioneering military leader and an important chapter in our nation’s struggle for civil rights, but it is also expected to help strengthen the local economy and create jobs through tourism."
Fielding questions from reporters for the final time in 15 years of public service, Sec. Salazar underscored the importance of plugging holes in America's history with sites like the one in Wilberforce, which only came into Federal possess last week, a DOI source said. The site is not currently open to visitors, but programs and exhibits are under development.
Dr. Reginald M. Tiller, DSL, who has been named acting superintendent of the new monument, spoke about the significance of his new assignment. "It is a tremendous honor to bring a new site into the National Park System, especially one that honors a man who played such an important role in advancing the cause of civil rights within our nation’s military," Tiller said. "I look forward to working with the local community and many stakeholders creating partnerships that will honor the life and accomplishments of Colonel Young. Dr. Tiller is currently superintendent of William Howard Taft National Historic Site in Cincinnati and has previously served as superintendent of George Washington Carver National Monument.
Secretary Salazar also reminded everyone present today that national monuments sites of all sizes become engines for local economic growth, which has been born out by analysis by NPS. Information provided by the White House said NPS's annual peer-reviewed report found that the 279 million visitors to national parks generated $30.1 billion in economic activity and supported 252,000 jobs nationwide in 2011. More than one third of that total spending, or $13 billion, went directly into communities within 60 miles of a park, and the national parks return more than $10 for every $1 the American taxpayer invests in the National Park Service.
The monument was created by President Obama under the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906. The Omega Psi Phi fraternity, of which Young was a part and which owned the home, made the property available for acquisition by the federal government for the purpose of establishing the national monument commemorating Young’s life and accomplishments.
The African American Experience Fund (AAEF) of the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, provided 100 percent of the purchase price for the historic Omega Psi Phi home. The AAEF supports the work of the National Park Service by raising funds and establishing partnerships to connect all Americans to the role of African Americans in our country's history.
Another partner was the Trust for Public Land, which provided real estate support and assistance to facilitate the donation to the federal government.
Director Jarvis thanked the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, saying it's now possible to recognize Col. Young's Ohio home "as a national monument and ensure that his contributions to the American story will be preserved and shared to inspire future generations." The great granddaughter of Col. Young was present, telling Secretary Salazar that being a Young means you persevere in the face of whatever comes your way, as her great grandfather did.
At the time of his death in 1922 in Nigeria, Col. Young was a nationally known figure whose obituary ran in the New York Times. He became a distinguished combat officer, commanded troops in the Philippine Insurrection and the Mexican expedition against Pancho Villa. He was a pioneer of techniques in military intelligence, and one of the first military attachés in the United States, serving in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Liberia. His funeral was only the fourth in history to be held in the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery.
While teaching at Wilberforce University as its second professor of Science and Military Tactics, Col. Young and his widowed mother Ada purchased the house that forms the core of the new national monument.
According to DOI, Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown, who won a second term last year, and Robert Portman, elected in 2010, both co-sponsored legislation in support of greater recognition of Col. Young.
"The contributions made by Colonel Young—and so many other African American soldiers who have fought for our nation—deserve to be honored on a national scale," said Sen. Brown in prepared remarks. "Colonel Young was a ground-breaking member of the military and a true example of the best of Ohio. Adding this home to the National Park System is an appropriate honor for this dedicated, selfless, and trailblazing American."
Sen. Portman said, "Today, as we celebrate the addition of Colonel Young’s home to the National Park System, we remember his groundbreaking achievements and acts of valor in the face of prejudice and adversity. His rich legacy has long been treasured by Ohioans, and now it will be preserved to inspire future generations across the country."
Even Republican U.S. Representative Michael Turner (OH-10) supported the National Parks Study Act to recognize the invaluable contributions of Young and find ways to commemorate his life and service.
"The president has rightly taken the step of officially designating the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument here in Southwest Ohio. Colonel Charles Young stands out as a shining example of the dedication, service, and commitment of the Buffalo Soldiers the United States and world history,” said Rep. Turner. "We should continue to honor the legacy and leadership of the Buffalo Soldiers and this monument will not only tell their story for generations to come, but will also inspire young Americans to achieve a sense of duty and honor."
Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument is located at 1120 U.S. Route 42 East, Xenia, Ohio. For more information, visit the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument .