A Day Late: Our Black WWII Pilot Heroes

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In the United States soldiers used to be held up to the highest esteem.

That was a long time ago. The Black soldier was usually the exception to this rule; he always seemed to be starting from square one. This was especially the case in WWII.

It’s not that Blacks were unfamiliar with war. The Civil War saw Blacks play a pivotal role in the Union’s victory. Even before slavery there were many wars fought by African armies; this includes the numerous times they beat upstart European invading forces before colonialism—You won’t find these battle accounts in school text books.

So it seems conspicuous to me that in view of the scandal relating to the mistreatment of soldiers at Walter Reed and open military resentment by the Bush Administration, that the Tuskegee Airmen were finally granted a ceremony for the Congressional Gold Medal issued collectively to them.

Many are overjoyed at this; 300 0f them attended the event. I could easily ask the question, what took Congress so long to give them such a high profile well-deserved honor? But I already know the answer. Simply put—they were Black men serving their country, a band of brothers fighting a big Hitler for a bunch of little Hitlers.

Certainly if a group of white pilots from say Bob Jones University or Gonzaga University, served in the Big One with the exact same record as the “Red Tails” those congressional medals would have came much sooner. The Bob Jones Airmen would have been a household name well before I was born back in the fifties. Just imagine Hollywood elevating them to god-like status with a flurry of movies and a TV series starring people like John Wayne, Clark Gable, Steve McQueen, and Bogey.

Only in America can you find bizarre mindsets which won’t allow you to fight in a war that can’t be won without you. Then when you are successful, your accomplishments get censored. Contrast this with the exploits of another group of Black WWII fighter pilots—the ones who flew for Britain’s Royal Air-Force.

They’re a bigger secret than the Tuskegee Airmen. But according to one of them who went on to become a top educator, diplomat and novelist, the English were glad to have them. He is Edward Ricardo Braithwaite, the Guyanese novelist.

During WWII he joined as a pilot and disclosed that he and other Black flyers were not discriminated against. In fact they were treated quite well. Braithwaite went on to write and one of his novels was a best seller that became a movie of the same name: “To Sir with Love,” based loosely on his experiences as a school teacher. He also wrote numerous works on racial discrimination.

Our own American men would have had a tremendous impact on Black youth if Black filmmakers told their stories. I’m not putting the burden on white producers and directors, they don’t think it’s their job and maybe it’s not. But it seems to me the real bogeys are the producers who shoot down these ideas and approve “Soul Plane.”

Black Star News columnist and syndicated writer Stevenson can be reached at

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