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Mayor Sheehan and City of Albany Preside Over City’s Second Henry Johnson Day

June 05, 2018

Date: June 5, 2018
Contact: Dennis Gaffney
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For Immediate Release

ALBANY, NY – Mayor Kathy Sheehan and other elected officials commemorated the City’s second Henry Johnson Day this morning to honor Albany’s own World War I hero, Sergeant Henry Johnson. Today, June 5, marks the 101-year anniversary of Sgt. Johnson's enlistment in the all-black 369th Infantry Regiment. Sgt. Johnson heroic actions in May 1918 earned him the Medal of Honor, the highest military honor an American soldier can receive, which was bestowed by former President Barack Obama on June 2, 2015 in a White House ceremony. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Sgt. Johnson’s act of valor.

Mayor Sheehan also gave the second Henry Johnson Award for Distinguished Community Service, established last year, to honor those who have “demonstrably given of their time and talent to build a better Albany,” to Jahkeen Hoke. Jahkeen, an Albany resident, is the co-founder of 4th Family Inc., a 7-year-old nonprofit that he co-founded that uses mentoring and sports to inspire at-risk students in STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering, and math – and careers. As part of the award, Jahkeen received a newly minted silver commemorative Henry Johnson Medal created by Ferris Coin, which will be given out to awardees annually.

As part of the day, the Albany Housing Coalition has also renamed their Veterans House at 180 First Street the Sgt. Henry Johnson Veterans House. They also awarded their first Charles Chandler Memorial Scholarship Award, a college scholarship given for an essay on Henry Johnson’s impact today, to Albany High School senior Zaeqwan Cancer. 

“Sgt. Johnson not only exhibited great bravery while in battle during World War I, he is a person who demonstrated another kind of courage when he came home from war and spoke against racism in a segregated country, speaking truth to power,” Mayor Sheehan said. “His spirit of selfless giving lives on in Jahkeen Hoke, whose work at 4th Families Inc. is attracting at-risk students to STEM subjects and careers and changing lives in Albany through education."   

“We are excited and honored to dedicate our Veterans House to local World War 1 hero Sgt. Henry Johnson, who walked these streets as a young man,” said Joseph Sluszka, Executive Director of the Albany Housing Coalition.

About Sgt. Henry Johnson 
On June 5, 1917, Albany resident Henry Johnson 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, 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 of a fellow soldier. For his bravery, Johnson was awarded the Croix de Guerre, France’s highest award for valor, the first American to receive this award. 

Sgt. Johnson returned to Albany in 1919 and was celebrated as a war hero. But despite having sustained 21 wounds, he received no honors from his home country. After speaking out against racism in the military and the country, Sgt. Johnson was forbidden to speak publicly at military gatherings. He died, destitute, in 1929, in his mid-30s. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Thanks to the tenacity of the 369th Infantry Regiment and local elected leaders such as Senator Chuck Schumer, 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. In 2015 he was awarded the National Medal of Honor—the nation’s highest military honor—by President Barack Obama. 

The Henry Johnson Award for Distinguished Community Service is given in the spirit of Albany resident Henry Johnson, in honor and recognition of his selfless service and his drive to go above and beyond the call of duty.