Tuskegee airman speaks at Pitt

By Gretchen Andersen

As a kid, Roscoe C. Brown Jr. spent his time reading magazines that featured famous pilots… As a kid, Roscoe C. Brown Jr. spent his time reading magazines that featured famous pilots and made model airplanes. Hopes of flying ran through his head.

Not many years later, Brown was flying for the United States. He was the squadron commander of the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group, otherwise known as the Tuskegee Airmen, during World War II.

Thursday afternoon in the William Pitt Union’s Kurtzman Ballroom, community members, faculty and students gathered to hear Brown’s lecture, “Tuskegee Airmen: A Model for Excellence.”

Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, School of Education, Office of Public Affairs and Office of Student Affairs hosted the event in recognition of Black History Month.

Sylvanus Wosu, associate dean for diversity affairs, organized the event two months ago, hoping the audience would see the impact of resilience and how “failure is not an option unless you it make it one.”

Wosu chose to feature Brown because “he is a great way of highlighting the accomplishments of the black community and the contributions they have made.”

In a separate interview, history professor Laurence Glasco explained how the Tuskegee Airmen began at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, which had a pilot training program for black people.

“The Air Force was reluctant to use African-Americans. However, after Eleanor Roosevelt took a flight with a Tuskegee Institute instructor and was impressed, she campaigned for them to be included in the Air Force, and they were eventually taken in,” Glasco said.

The Air Force began recruiting people from black colleges nationwide, looking for top students and athletes.

“I was 20 years old, a college graduate, valedictorian of my class,” Brown said.

“These men were the cream of black manhood, highly educated, very professional and well trained,” Glasc said.

Despite being a part of the Air Force, black people were still treated differently from white people. The War Deparment’s 1925 study concluded that black people should not be in combat, and the military was segregated during this time.

“They set up a separate base for African-Americans,” Brown said.

There were people against them the whole time, including one white commander who “thought his role was to make us fail,” Brown said. “There was a lot of serious prejudice.”

“We had excellence in our selection, training … but could we go to combat?” Brown asked the audience.

The answer was yes.

Brown and his squadron escorted the bombers, B-17 and B-24 planes, over Germany, bombing structures such as German airfields, manufacturing plants and railroads.

“Our job was to protect them [bombers] and make sure they don’t go down,” Brown said.

All the pilots the Tuskegee Airmen escorted were white. Brown said many were happy to have skilled men on their side.

“They called us the Red Tail Angels. We became the best escort fighters in the world,” he said.

The success of the Tuskegee Airmen contributed to the desegregation of the military in 1948 by Harry S. Truman.

“They helped change the attitudes of having African-Americans in the military,” Glasco said.

Brown stressed an equation that will help anyone can become a model for excellence, even through adversity.

“Three ‘p’ equals ‘e,’” he said to the audience. “Preparation, perseverance and pride equal excellence. We can all reach a level of excellence. It is up to us to open those doors of opportunity for excellence.”