Henry Johnson Boulevard, Henry Johnson Charter School, and this bust sculpted by
Vincent Forte, Sr., are a few examples of how the memory of decorated soldier Henry Johnson lives on in the city of Albany. Johnson was an infantry soldier who served during World War I, a time when African Americans were segregated into “colored” units. Serving with the French on the front line, Johnson’s actions in combat earned him France’s highest military honor, the Croix de Guerre avec Palme, and posthumously the U.S. Purple Heart in 1996, the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002, and the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor in 2015.

Born about 1892 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Johnson moved to Albany as a teenager and worked various jobs including railway porter at Albany's Union Station. At the onset of the United States’ involvement in World War I, in 1917, Johnson traveled to New York City to enlist in the United States Army. He was placed in the 15th New York Infantry Regiment, later the 369th Infantry Regiment, as part of the American Expeditionary Forces that consisted mostly of African American soldiers. They were known as the “Harlem Hellfighters” since most soldiers came from the Harlem section of New York City.

On May 15, 1918, Johnson was on sentry duty with another soldier when they were attacked by German forces. Johnson fought off nearly a dozen German soldiers and caused several casualties. When his fellow soldier was wounded, Johnson prevented his capture. With fighting reduced to hand-to-hand combat, Johnson was able to hold off the German advance and survive the battle, although he sustained multiple wounds. He returned to the U.S. with his regiment in 1919 but was unable to take up his position at Albany’s Union Station because of his wounds. Johnson died in July 1929 without U.S. recognition or a disability pension.

The plaster bust created by Capital Region sculptor Vince Forte, Sr. served as the model for a bronze bust installed and dedicated in Albany’s Washington Park in 1996.

 

Magnifying Glass
Bust of Henry Johnson
Sculpted by Vincent Forte, Sr.
1995
Plaster
Albany Institute of History & Art, gift of Michelina T. Forte
Magnifying Glass
Famous New York Soldiers Return Home, the 369th Infantry
Gelatin silver photographic print
1919