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4th Annual Henry Johnson Day Commemorated in Arbor Hill

September 10, 2020

Date: September 10, 2020
Contact: Dennis Gaffney
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City of Albany Commemorates Fourth Annual Henry Johnson Day 
Amy Jones Wins Henry Johnson Award for Distinguished Community Service
ALBANY, NY – Albany elected officials, joined by a small gathering in Arbor Hill, commemorated the City’s fourth Henry Johnson Day this morning to honor Albany’s own World War I hero, Sergeant Henry Johnson. Sgt. Johnson’s heroic actions in the all-black 369th Infantry Regiment (see bio below) in May 1918 posthumously 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.
At the ceremony, the fourth Henry Johnson Award for Distinguished Community Service, created to honor those who have “demonstrably given of their time and talent to build a better Albany,” was awarded to local social justice activist Amy Jones.
“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 ability to speak for those who are discriminated against and fight for them in their time of need lives on in Amy Jones.”
“Henry Johnson Day was established so that the residents of Albany can honor and celebrate one of the bravest soldiers in American history,” said Ronald Wilson, who is president of the Albany branch of the 369th Veterans Association. “We also want to acknowledge Amy Jones, who like Sgt. Henry Johnson, exhibits great courage and strength in her fight against racial injustice.”
Amy Jones is an activist and organizer for social and racial justice and has been instrumental in organizing marches and rallies in Albany to change minds – and change laws. She has focused her efforts on people who are often overlooked and under-served, including women of color and marginalized genders, and those released from incarceration or who have been sexually abused or suffered from domestic violence. Amy has helped raise and distribute tens of thousands of dollars to help people in need with emergency relocation, legal aid, food and more through the organization Voix Noire. She is also a racial justice consultant for Nacy Warner Associates, a communications and marketing firm for organizations valuing social justice.
As one of the people who nominated Amy wrote, “She has given of herself mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially time and time again to see to the safety and freedom of those the world neglects.” She has done this as someone who was sexually trafficked, has battled addiction, and was incarcerated, experiences that have bolstered her compassion for those who have gone through similar circumstances.
“I am deeply honored to receive this award and so grateful to those who nominated me,” said Amy. “I understand how completely amazing we already are in Albany and how much more incredible we can be once we understand that it’s going to take each and every one of us to heal our past hurts. I say this everywhere I go because it is my life’s mantra. Lilla Watson, the Murri activist, said, ‘If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is tied up with mine, then let us work together.’ All of our liberation is tied together. It is my hope that in these most challenging times, this is our collective takeaway.”
As part of the day, the Albany Housing Coalition, which renamed their Veterans House at 180 First Street the Sgt. Henry Johnson Veterans House in 2018, awarded their third Charles Chandler Memorial Scholarship Award, a $1,000 college scholarship, to Irene Nelson, formerly of the Albany High School Junior ROTC Henry Johnson Battalion.
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 the French. 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, the first American to receive France’s highest award for valor.
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, Albany advocates, 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.