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Mayor Sheehan Commemorates City’s Third Annual Henry Johnson Day

June 05, 2019

Date: June 5, 2019
Contact: Dennis Gaffney
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ALBANY, NY – Mayor Kathy Sheehan and other Albany officials commemorated the City’s third Henry Johnson Day this morning to honor Albany’s own World War I hero, Sergeant Henry Johnson. Today, June 5, marks the 102nd anniversary of Sgt. Johnson's enlistment in the all-black 369th Infantry Regiment. Sgt. Johnson’s heroic actions (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. This year marks the 101st anniversary of Sgt. Johnson’s act of valor.
 
At the ceremony, Mayor Sheehan gave the third 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,” to Albany School Board Member Tabetha Wilson. 
 
“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 truth to power against racism in a segregated country,” said Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan. “His spirit of selfless giving lives on in Tabetha Wilson, whose work on so many fronts is helping improve the lives of Albany residents of all ages, especially those in historically disadvantaged neighborhoods."   
 
“June 5th is a special day in the City of Albany – one that honors and celebrates our hometown hero Sgt. Henry Johnson and his heroic contribution to world history and the fight for racial equality in America,” said Deryl McCray, who is president of the Albany branch of the 369th Veterans Association. “We also lift up Tabetha Wilson, who has been identified by the community for her heart and actions that mirror the passion of Sgt. Henry Johnson.” 
 

Tabetha, an Albany resident, currently works for the NYS Office of Temporary Disability Assistance – an agency that oversees a variety of the State’s most important programs for low-income residents. She serves on many non-profit boards that include AVillage Inc. (President), the Capital District New Leaders Council, and Grand Street Community Arts. As part of the award, Tabetha received a minted silver commemorative Henry Johnson Medal created by Ferris Coin, which is given out to awardees annually.

"I am honored, humbled and completely surprised that my peers thought to nominate me for this award,” said Tabetha Wilson, winner of the 2019 Henry Johnson Award for Distinguished Community Service. “I do work in the community not for accolades but because I have a great passion for it. It's an outlet for my creativity, I enjoy the collective work and shared responsibility and seeing what was merely an idea or vision come to fruition.  This award is of great significance to me personally because of the intersection between Arbor Hill – where I grew up -- and Sgt. Henry Johnson, a heroic figure in our collective hearts, for his fearlessness in the face of war, and his outspokenness against racism.”

As part of the day, the Albany Housing Coalition, which last year renamed their Veterans House at 180 First Street the Sgt. Henry Johnson Veterans House, awarded their second Charles Chandler Memorial Scholarship Award, a $1,000 college scholarship given for an essay on Henry Johnson’s impact today, to senior Irene Nelson 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 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.

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