World War I Hero Henry Johnson Memorial

United States Army and French Army during World War I.

The Henry Johnson Memorial commemorates the African American war hero Henry Johnson. He served in World War I and was eventually honored with a Purple Heart and the Medal of Honor.

Henry Johnson was born in North Carolina in 1892. As a teenager Johnson moved to Albany and got a job at Albany's Union Station. Johnson enlisted in the United States Army in 1917. ("Medal of Honor") Due to racism among the United States Army, Johnson ended up working with the French Army. The United States Army during this time period were known to have a lot of racist tendencies towards blacks, while the French were willing to take in any blacks. In 1918 he and his troop came under attack by German Raiders. Johnson unconventionally used grenades, the butt of his knife, a bolo knife, and his bare fists to fight off the raiders and save lives of many of the men in his company. He received the nickname "Black Death" after this ordeal. France honored Johnson with a Croix de Guerre and a Bronze Palm. These are awards to honor service in the French Army. They could be compared with the Medal of Honor for service as an American. He was the first American soldier to receive these French honors. (Wikipedia) Theodore Roosevelt is quoted as calling him, "one of the five bravest Americans that fought in World War I." (Wikipedia)

When Johnson returned home from the war he was unable to return to his position at Union Station in Albany due to twenty one wounds he had received during the raid by Germany. ("Medal of Honor") He was asked to go on a lecture tour and was expected to speak about racial harmony in the trenches. He instead spoke about the abuse of black soldiers and how they were mistreated. Because of this a warrant for his arrest was issued for wearing his uniform longer than the date of his commission. This was a crime that almost never led to an arrest, but the United States did not want Johnson to speak about the military in a poor light any longer and took the chance they had to arrest him. Johnson died in 1929 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. At the time of his death he was very poor and fell out of public memory and image. (Wikipedia)

There was a struggle for him to receive American military awards for his accomplishments in the war, but they were fought off for a very long time. His family, as well as other supporters, kept this dream alive. In 1990's his story started to gain traction once again. The Henry Johnson Memorial was erected in Washington Park in downtown Albany in 1991. This memorial sparked a campaign to get the United States to recognize his service lead by Johnson's son Herman and senator Chuck Schumer. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart by President Bill Clinton in 1996. In 2002, the US Army honored Johnson with the Distinguished Service Cross. Finally, after a large push from Senator Schumer, Johnson was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor from President Barrack Obama in the summer of 2015. (Pruitt)

Access Information:

Southeast Corner of Washington Park

Street Address:

Washington Park Road, Washington Park, Albany, NY 12210 [map]

Cite this Page:

Sean Greene, “World War I Hero Henry Johnson Memorial,” Albany Walks for Health, accessed March 20, 2019, http://www.albanywalksforhealth.com/items/show/17.
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