We are mired in a crisis. Our country is suffering from what may be the greatest dearth of leadership in its history. Economic greed has led to a financial collapse, politicians show more loyalty to their parties than the people. But if anyone in our nation’s capital is interested in learning from true leaders, there’s a group visiting this week that would love to lend some advice. The surviving veterans of the first black military pilots in American history, the Tuskegee Airmen, are in town to celebrate their 70th anniversary.
It’s incomprehensible today. Denied the right to fight for your country because of the color of your skin? This wasn’t back in ancient times. It was seven short decades ago.
Allied bombers were being blown out of the sky at an alarming rate. They desperately needed fighter escorts. Scores of African American pilots were itching for action, ready to help. But the Army wasn’t ready for them.
Army Air Forces Commander General Hap Arnold bluntly rejected their pleas:
“Negro pilots cannot be used in our present Air Corps units since this would result in Negro officers serving over white enlisted men creating an impossible social situation.”
In 1944, the all-black 332nd Fighter Group, comprised of these Tuskeegee Airmen, finally saw combat. By all accounts they performed with the utmost in capability and courage and served with distinction.
But sometimes, when you kick a door open, it can swing back to where it almost shuts again. Even after proving themselves, not one was ever promoted to a command position. In Seymour, Indiana a laundry that gladly cleaned the clothes of German prisoners refused to wash the uniforms of African Americans.
These fine men never stopped serving their country. Most were, and are willing to speak to groups, schools and gatherings anywhere. They speak about loyalty. They speak about pride. They speak about freedom.
They were not out for personal glory. They suffered insult after indignity, ignoring them as best they could, staying focused on what was most important to them, proving the skill, resolve and courage of their race, and in the face of segregation and racism, sacrificing their lives in defense of the United States of America.
They’ve fought their entire lives with one goal, to make this country great. Maybe while they’re in Washington someone will listen.
Below is a brief Growing Bolder interview with Roscoe Brown, Jr. He was commander of the 100th Fighter Squadron of the all black 332cnd Fighter Group. After the war, he became a professor at New York University and president of Bronx Community College. In 2007, he was invited to the White House and awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
Want to learn more? Visit http://www.tuskegeeairmen.org/.