Thursday, October 02, 2008

Tuskegee Airman eager to share story

A little history lesson for those of us reading this blog who wasn't able to live this history from today's Sun-Times:
The colonel asked Lt. Quentin Smith to agree he would not enter the officers' club or swimming pool after 5 p.m.

The recreational facilities at the Army Air Force's Freeman Field in Indiana were for white officers only. Smith is black.

And what if Smith refused?

"Are you familiar with the 64th Article of War?" he was asked.

The offense? Ddisobedience of an order. The penalty? Death.

It was World War II, and Smith was one of the "Tuskegee Airmen," the nation's first black military pilots. They came from all over the country to train in the "military experiment, which was headquartered in Tuskegee, Ala.

Smith, a resident of Gary, Ind., and fellow former Tuskegee pilots Robert Martin and Shelby Westbrook are planning to share their experiences breaking the color barrier -- and the discrimination they endured -- Thursday evening at Pritzker Military Library, 610 N. Fairbanks Court.

"The policy of the military when we came in was blacks can't lead, blacks can't fight, and they most certainly cannot fly combat planes," Smith said. "That meant that 99 percent of all blacks were either digging ditches, working in the kitchens, or in home and supply."

Smith, Martin and Westbrook will be interviewed by broadcast journalist John Callaway. Entry is free to the event, which will be broadcast live online.
The part I placed in bold. Are you kidding me? Most of the people I have met knew how to fight. We've been fighting in this nation's wars since the American Revolution and the US military of the 1940s say we couldn't fight?

Is it that black just didn't have the privilege to play soldiers? Especially given the minor fact that some early gun control legislation was designed to keep blacks from owning weapons. It's probably somewhat safe to say that they didn't want any Negroes to dare defend themselves from either a lynching or harrasment!

Sorry for the rant. I wasn't around back then, but I do know that the Tuskegee Airmen broke true barriers. Progress was slow and I would say still slow, but at least the military isn't segregated anymore. At least blacks will have the same opportunities as any body else who joins the military.

Now to figure out where to watch this event online since I'm so out of town I won't be able to make this one.

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