ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Albany officials have opened an exhibit at City Hall to honor Sgt. Henry Johnson by unveiling his Medal of Honor to the public. The exhibit will remain open for 10 weeks.
Johnson was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on June 2, 2015, in a White House ceremony held by former President Barack Obama. The Medal was unveiled in the rotunda of Albany City Hall on April 14 with Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Congressman Paul Tonko, Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, and members of the New York Army National Guard in attendance.
Johnson fought in World War I under French command and single-handedly fought off a German raid to save a fellow soldier. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre, France’s highest award for valor, and was the first American to receive it.
Johnson returned to the United States in 1919 and was celebrated as a war hero. Despite his hero status, he received no honors from his home country. After speaking out against racism in the military, he was forbidden to ever again speak publicly at military gatherings or wear his uniform publicly. He died in his mid-30s in 1929.
“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,” said Mayor Sheehan.
The display includes other objects associated with Johnson, including:
- A bolo knife
- A helmet
- A 369th Infantry Regiment sleeve insignia
- The Croix de Guerre
The exhibit also includes a New York State Museum kiosk that contains images and information about Johnson’s life and heroism, as well as the WMHT documentary, “Henry Johnson: A Tale of Courage.” The Medal was loaned to the city by the NYS National Guard and is displayed courtesy of the NYS Military Museum.
The medal will be on display 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, and until 8 p.m. on Monday, April 18, Monday, May 16, and Wednesday, June 29.
Nominations are also being accepted for the 6th Annual Henry Johnson Award for Distinguished Community Service. The award will be presented to an Albany resident who has made meaningful contributions to the community in arts and history, social justice, education, or by volunteering. You can nominate someone by visiting the City of Albany website.
“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,” said County Executive McCoy.