Before World War II, African Americans were told they didn’t have the brains to fly an airplane, Charles Bowers, with the Tuskegee Airman Association, told the eighth-graders at Chastang-Fournier K-8 School today.
But as brave African Americans were sequestered in Tuskegee, Alabama, and taught to fly in a segregated air force, that theory was proven false.
The Tuskegee Airmen successfully escorted bombers past the Germans to complete their missions, and they paved the way for African Americans to serve in the Air Force and other branches of the U.S. military that would eventually integrate.
“They made is possible for me,” said Bowers, who served in the Air Force from 1959-1983.
Bowers joined representatives of the Buffalo Soldiers and the Montford Point Marines to talk to the students about the challenges of serving our country as African Americans.
Bowers said he was asked to ride in the back of a bus when he was stationed in North Carolina.
Henri LeGendre, who bragged about looking good at the age of 94 and 8 months, was a Buffalo Soldier who served in World War II. He was the only soldier who knew short-hand, so he was promoted to serve as secretary to the commanding general. Baseball great Jackie Robinson was his executive officer.
“How do you look this good when you’re my age?” he asked before answering. “Don’t do drugs.”
Rodney Lee, a former marine representing the Montford Point Marines, taught the students how to say “oorah” in honor of the first African Americans to serve in the Marines. They were named for where they served – Montford Point, N.C. – and they were heroic at Iwo Jima, in Vietnam and elsewhere.
After the presentations, members of the Mobile Metropolitan Medical Society – a group of African American doctors – presented a proclamation from the City of Mobile declaring Feb. 15 as “African Americans in the Military Day.” The MMM Society has adopted Chastang-Fournier and its members spend time mentoring the students.
Principal Veronica Coleman said it was a great day for students to hear about history first-hand.