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Medal of Honor exhibit for Albany’s Henry Johnson unveiled at city hall

The city of Albany unveiled the Sergeant Henry Johnson Medal of Honor Exhibit Thursday at City Hall.

Henry Johnson came to Albany from North Carolina when he was a teenager. He served in the all-Black 369th U.S. Army Infantry Regiment during World War I in France. He suffered 21 wounds and rescued a fellow soldier while singlehandedly repelling an enemy raid in Northern France on May 14th, 1918. He saved 17-year-old Private Needham Roberts' life.

Johnson received the French military’s highest recognition, the Croix de Guerre. In February 1919, the Harlem Hellfighters returned to New York for a parade up Fifth Avenue, and Johnson returned to Albany, where historians say he died, destitute, in 1929, at age 32.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan says the city never forgot Johnson. She noted that 50 years ago former New York state Assemblyman Jack McEneny aided in an effort to paint a mural of Johnson at City Hall.

“It's downstairs, you know, with magnetrons," Sheehan said. "And where we are today, most people don't realize most people used to enter this building from downstairs and would go past the Henry Johnson mural, but that was painted 50 years ago this year. And I want to thank Jack McEneny for his foresight and for his leadership of recognizing even then, the importance of recognizing Henry Johnson.”

It wasn't until 1996 that Johnson was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart. He received the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002 and was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama in 2015. Albany County Executive Dan McCoy was there.

“I had the honor of being at the White House, to see President Obama award it to then 6th State Command Sgt. major of the New York Army National Guard, that medal, meant a lot, not just to the men and women, but to the black and Brown community,” McCoy said.

Sheehan says City Hall is honored to display Johnson's medal of honor.

“Well, I think it's really important to have a tangible display here in City Hall that everyone can see, even people who aren't necessarily coming here to see it. We have people that come and they can engage and learn a really important part of our history," Sheehan said. "We have to tell the complete story of our history, and for far too long, that story has not included the amazing accomplishments and achievements and the heroic acts like the ones that Henry Johnson undertook of our black and brown community and so we're helping to facilitate that right here in City Hall.”

The display includes the Medal of Honor and other objects associated with Johnson, including a bolo knife, a helmet, a 369th Infantry Regiment sleeve insignia, and the Croix de Guerre.

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
  • For additional information related to the Sgt. Henry Johnson Medal of Honor Exhibit and the Henry Johnson Community Service Award, visit albanyny.gov
Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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