An article in yesterday's Style section said that retired Air Force general Benjamin O. Davis Jr. was the first black graduate of West Point. In fact, the first black graduate was Henry O. Flipper.
"That was when we were all young and very good-looking in our pinks and greens," reminisced Lincoln Ragsdale. "Oh, we were so good-looking."
Ragsdale was in the crowd of active and retired airmen who gathered with their families to screen "The Black Eagles," a special series of "Tony Brown's Journal" that chronicles the Tuskegee Airmen's role in the desegregation of the U.S. military during World War II.
The star graduates of the Tuskegee experiment were there--retired general Benjamin O. Davis Jr., the first black graduate of West Point who later became the first black general in the Air Force; the legendary Clarence D. (Lucky) Lester, who shot down three enemy fighter planes in less than six minutes, and Alex Jackson, a Tuskegee pilot who spent nine months as a German prisoner of war.
"I was fascinated with their story and one thing led to another," said series producer Tony Brown. "I knew I had to do not one, but four segments on them because of their part in civil and human rights in this country." Brown undertook the project to highlight the squadron's largely untold contributions in World War II, and what unfolded last night was a tribute to its role in civil rights.
"As a child I had a lot of heroes, but after doing this series, the Tuskegee Airmen are and forever will be my true heroes," said James Kennedy, producer of the first segment, airing tonight and tomorrow night on PBS in conjunction with Black History Month.
Though they were successful in breaking down the barriers in the once-segregated armed forces, many said their fight did not end with war.
"Look around you and you see doctors, psychologists, businessmen," said Jackson, a retired educator wearing the blue coat of the Detroit chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc. "We've been as successful as much as white society will allow us."
"A friend of mine once said that there was a special kind of black who could steal hubcaps from moving cars," said Brown, laughing at a stereotype of blacks. "Well, the Tuskegee Airmen were a special kind who dropped bombs through the windows of houses."