Contact: Dennis Gaffney/ 518-281-7252 (cell)
ALBANY, NY – This morning, Thursday, April 14, the City of Albany, including Mayor Sheehan, Senator Schumer’s Office, U.S. Congressman Paul Tonko, Steve Mann from Senator Schumer’s Office, County Executive Dan McCoy, Major General Mike Natali, Assistant Adjutant General of the New York Army National Guard Lt. Colonel Michael Bedryk, Commander of the 369th Special Troops Battalion, veterans of the 369th Infantry Regiment, including Ronald Wilson, as well as long-time Henry Johnson advocates such as Wallis Howe-Rosenzweig, honored Sgt. Henry Johnson, one of Albany’s greatest war heroes, with a public unveiling of his Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award, in the rotunda of Albany City Hall (24 Eagle Street, Albany, NY). This is the most publicly accessible display of the Medal to date.
The Medal is the same one that was awarded posthumously to Sgt. Johnson on June 2, 2015, in a White House ceremony by then President Barack Obama after a long and persistent grassroots effort by local 369th veterans and elected officials. The story of Sgt. Johnson’s life in Albany and his courage in combat was recalled at the event as was his decision to speak out against the racism he faced in the military and in Jim Crow America (see bio below).
The display consists of the Medal of Honor as well as other objects associated with Sgt. Johnson and the 369th, including a bolo knife, a helmet, a 369th Infantry Regiment sleeve insignia, and the Croix de Guerre, the French medal awarded to Sgt. Johnson. The exhibit also includes an informative NYS Museum kiosk that contains images and information about Sgt. Johnson’s life and heroism, as well as the WMHT documentary, “Henry Johnson: A Tale of Courage.”
The Medal was generously loaned to the City by the NYS National Guard, and is displayed courtesy of The NYS Military Museum, NY State Division of Military and Naval Affairs.
Individuals, school groups, veterans and anyone else interested in Albany history are encouraged to visit.
Medal Viewing Times
- Each weekday from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. until Friday, July 1
- Noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 18 for the commemoration of Juneteenth, the national holiday that marks the freeing of enslaved African Americans
- Evening hours until 8 p.m. on Monday, April 18;. Monday, May 16; and Wednesday, June 29
Other City events that coincide with the Medal display are:
- A South End tour on Saturday, May 14, by Orville Abrahams, entitled “African Americans in Albany from the Civil War Through the Twentieth Century.” The tour will begin at 2 p.m. at the African American Cultural Center at of the Capital Region at 135 South Pearl Street, Albany, NY 12202
- Submissions for the Henry Johnson Award for Distinguished Community Service, which are now open
- Promotion of the play, “Camp Logan,” an award-winning WW I drama about the explosion of racial tensions in 1917 Houston, which involved an all-black Army regiment. The play is being performed by the Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate NY at theREP, and will run June 2-5 and 9-12
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand: “Sgt. Henry Johnson was an American hero. He risked his life to serve his country on the frontlines and to save the lives of his fellow soldiers, only to return home to racism and die having received no recognition from his country. This posthumous Medal of Honor is a small step towards righting this injustice. I encourage everyone in Albany to visit City Hall to view the medal and to honor the life and sacrifice of Sgt. Johnson and all the black infantrymen who so valiantly served our country during World War I.”
Congressman Paul Tonko: “Sgt. Henry Johnson’s heroism continues to serve as an inspiration to us all. After enlisting in the U.S. Army to fight in World War I, Sgt. Johnson single-handedly fought off a German raid in hand-to-hand combat, saving fellow soldiers’ lives in the process. Though he was awarded France’s highest award for military valor, he received no honors from his own country during his lifetime. I was a proud advocate for Sgt. Johnson’s posthumous recognition with the Medal of Honor by President Obama in 2015, and I am excited to see that medal come home to Albany. I am thrilled that this exhibit will give many more people the chance to learn about Sgt. Johnson’s story and to be inspired by his service.”
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan: “Albany was Henry Johnson’s home before he left to serve his country in World War I, and he showed a courage in combat that elevated him into a war hero – and a hometown hero. We cannot undo the racism he confronted in the military or at home, but we can commit to raising his profile as an example of the patriotism and character of so many Black and Brown individuals who have served our country. We honor him with this public display of this Medal and by recommitting ourselves to act in his spirit until the racism so many have had to face is part of our past.”
Assemblymember John McDonald III: "Sergeant Henry Johnson was one of Albany's great military heroes. As a Medal of Honor recipient his legacy continues to inspire us. Allowing the public to see Sgt. Johnson’s Medal of Honor is an exciting opportunity and I commend the City of Albany for establishing this exhibit that will allow the public to learn more about this local hero."
Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy: “Sergeant Henry Johnson is a larger-than-life character whose deeds are well-known across the Capital Region and throughout the United States, and his belongings on display are important reminders of his heroism. He fought for our nation, which had not yet guaranteed an African American’s basic civil rights. This selfless service earned him the Medal of Honor long after his death, and he makes me proud to be an Albany native and proud to have worn the Army uniform.”
Ronald Wilson, President of the Albany District of the 369th Veterans Association: “Just a few generations ago, Sgt. Henry Johnson walked the streets of Albany, worked in this City, and got married. He fought for his country with an uncommon courage. We must remember his name and his deeds on the battlefield and his courage speaking out against racism -- and we do that by giving his Medal and memory a place of honor: Albany City Hall. I urge all who live in our City and care about its heroes to come and visit this exhibit.”
About Sgt. Henry Johnson
As a teenager, Henry Johnson came to Albany with his family from North Carolina. On June 5, 1917, Henry enlisted in the U.S. Army. Because of racial segregation and the refusal of the U.S. Army to allow Black soldiers to participate in combat, members of 369th Infantry Regiment, who became known as the Harlem Hellfighters, fought under French command. In May 1918 Johnson heroically and single-handedly fought off a German raid in hand-to-hand combat, saving the life and imprisonment of a fellow soldier, Needham Roberts. For his bravery, Johnson was awarded the Croix de Guerre, France’s highest award for valor, the first American to receive this honor.
Sgt. Johnson returned to the United States in 1919 and was celebrated as a war hero. Former President Theodore Roosevelt singled out Johnson as one of the “five bravest Americans” to serve in World War I. Sgt. Johnson led the parade of the Harlem Hellfighters that traveled up New York's 5th Avenue as thousands cheered. But despite his heroic status and having sustained 21 wounds in The Battle of Henry Johnson, he received no honors from his home country. After speaking out against racism in the military in Kansas City, Sgt. Johnson was forbidden to ever again speak publicly at military gatherings or even wear his uniform publicly. He died, destitute, in 1929, in his mid-30s. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Thanks to the tenacity of the 369th veterans such as John Howe and Jim Dandles and elected leaders such as Senator Chuck Schumer and U.S. Congressman Paul Tonko, Sgt. Henry Johnson was finally recognized by the United States government for his service to his country when he was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart in 1996 and the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002, and the Medal of Honor in 2015. Two statues have been built in Albany – one in Washington Park and another in Henry Johnson Park – to honor Albany’s hero.