SPEAKER 1: It's a personal delight for me to welcome back to this university and welcome to Hans Bethe House for the first time Dr. Roscoe Brown. I'm going to make a bit of a lengthy introduction, partly to fill in time because he wants to show the movie as soon as the introduction is finished, but mainly because there are aspects of his incredible career that he may not mention himself, because, by nature, he tends to be modest.
As you'll see from the title, Dr. Brown was one of the legendary airmen of the famous Tuskegee squadron in World War II. For that, in 2007, he received the Congressional Gold Medal from President Bush, which, by chance, I happened to see that evening on the news, and we mentioned at lunch that President Bush saluted him, which I thought was a very nice thing.
The Tuskegee Airmen were members of the 332nd Fighter Group of the US Army Air Corps. The group was formed at the Tuskegee Institute at the university actually started by Booker T. Washington and trained at the Tuskegee Airfield in Alabama.
The units formation was controversial. Some of you may have lived through those times. Others, like me, as a history buff know how controversial it was. It was created by congressional legislation in 1941 and then resisted by the Department of Defense at that time called the War Department, which attempted to undermine the directive by setting standards for acceptance considered too difficult for black applicants.
The policy backfired, thankfully, when the Air Corps received numerous qualified applicants who excelled in the Air Corps standardized tests measuring IQ, dexterity, leadership, and other qualities. During World War II, they had an exemplary record. They flew 200 bomber-escorted missions and didn't lose a single bomber to enemy fighters. They also took down a lot of fighters.
And Dr. Brown was one of their aces. The word escaped me for a moment. It wasn't written down here. He was commander of 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group. He flew missions over Germany, Austria, Romania, and the Balkans.
While escorting B-17s over Berlin, he became the 15th Air Force fighter pilot to shoot down a Messerschmitt 262 fighter jet. For this and for many other feats, he and his unit received many, many commendations. Dr. Brown was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with eight oak leaf clusters, and as I mentioned earlier in 2007, he also received the Congressional Gold Medal in the rotunda of the Capitol.
Dr. Brown left the military in 1945, went back to school at Springfield College, and then got a PhD from New York University. For more than 25 years, he was a professor at New York University in actually my field in urban and regional planning. He is the founding director of the university's Institute for Afro-American studies.
He was for 16 years the president of Bronx Community College of the City University, then created the Center for Urban Education Policy at CUNY, where he is university professor and director of the Center since 1993. Other countries, for example, Japan, for example, France, have a particular type of honor for people like Dr. Brown. We don't.
Those people are called national treasures. Well, let me take the initiative in appointing Dr. Brown a national treasure, at least a Cornell treasure, so welcome.
ROSCOE BROWN: That was great. Thank you, [INAUDIBLE]. That was nice.
SPEAKER 1: Thank you.
ROSCOE BROWN: Yeah, good afternoon. Good afternoon.
AUDIENCE: Good afternoon.
ROSCOE BROWN: Well, I'm glad we solved the technological problems, at least, we're almost ready, right? OK, first of all, let me say it-- I'm really pleased to be back here. I was invited by Professor Dick Ripple and my buddy over here, Tom Noel before, and now with Professor Purvis and, now, I'm able to tell the story again.
And so in order to put a little baking powder in it, I brought a film, which talks about the mission over Berlin where I shot down the first jet, and assuming the technology catches up, you'll be able to see this, but I entitled this talk, they said it couldn't be done, but the Tuskegee Airmen did it.
And the reason I used that title, excuse me-- the reason I used that title is because it is apocryphal in terms of what was intended at that time. I see that many of you are older than the groups that I usually talk to, which consists of students who are, like, 20 and 25, who weren't born at the time of segregation.
So many of you are aware of the racial past of this country, which was racially segregated, and we know the schools were segregated until 1954 with the Brown case decision, and we know that the Voting Rights Act only came in in 1965, which eliminated restrictions for African-Americans and others in voting so that a lot of water has passed under the dam.
But as the world changes, it's very important that we recognize how far we've come. We know how far we have to go. We made a great step forward on November the 4th, 2008 with the election of Barack Hussein Obama, and he is providing great leadership.
And, tomorrow, as you know, will be the 100th day of his administration, and there are many articles and programs being done about his success. According to the New York Times today, 68% of the country thinks that he's doing a good job, and the country is moving ahead, which is the highest approval rating any president has had recently.
Also, the study, the CBS-Times Poll says that race relations have improved, that two-thirds of the population believes that race relations have improved, as against maybe 50% a year ago. So things have changed and what we're going to talk about today is what role the Tuskegee Airmen had in helping to make this change and what role others in this society have come about.
And, usually, when I do this, I use this program from the History Channel entitled Dogfights. Now some of you may may be peaceniks and not believe in war, but sometimes it is necessary, and I think World War II was probably the most important, necessary conflict that we had, and there was some ambivalence about the role that African-Americans would play in this conflict.
In fact, in 1925, the War Department, which was the equivalent of the Defense Department, issued a quote-unquote scientific study that said that Negroes did not have the brain capacity, the discipline, the ability to follow orders in order to be in combat units, particularly in the Air Corps. And for at least 15 years, there were no Blacks allowed in the Air Corps.
Some of you may know that the first pilot, first black pilot, given a license in the United States was a woman, Bessie Coleman, who received her license back in 1925. Unfortunately, she was killed a few years later doing stunt piloting. So, therefore, the movement of African-Americans into aviation had not really moved ahead.
And, therefore, this development of the Tuskegee Airmen, and I'll tell you something about the politics of that after we see the movie, helped to change America. As a matter of fact, I think one of the titles I used for one of my talks was "Tuskegee Airmen-- Men Who Changed America."
So now I'm using a different one. They said it couldn't be done. I'm going to show you how we did it. Are we ready? Can we show that now?
SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE].
ROSCOE BROWN: They give you those things with all those manuals. How many have you have ever used a manual and put in one of those things together? Nobody. You push it around, push it around, and, finally, it works.
OK, I understand. It took a few thousand years to develop this. It may take a few thousands minutes for it to work. So--
SPEAKER 1: Yeah, it's playing.
ROSCOE BROWN: It's playing?
SPEAKER 1: The picture-- the picture is there. Play.
- By myself within the territory.
- Roscoe Brown returns to base victorious.
ROSCOE BROWN: That's at the end of it. Now, victorious. We got that. We were victorious. We got that.
- His flight lead, Wendell Pruitt, strictly forbidden for a wingman.
ROSCOE BROWN: That's early on. Move it ahead. Move it ahead.
ROSCOE BROWN: Move it ahead. Move it ahead.
- How this happened [INAUDIBLE].
ROSCOE BROWN: That wasn't it.
SPEAKER 2: Sorry.
ROSCOE BROWN: I would suggest that we forget this now because we tried.
SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE]
ROSCOE BROWN: Yeah. We can do it tonight at the ROTC, make sure it works. You got that? OK.
All right, let me go back. The 1920s, '30s, and '40s were a time of the Depression, a time of deep racial segregation, but during that time, black communities developed on their own.
I grew up in Washington, DC, which, at the time, had the largest middle class black population, and the reason for that was Civil Service, because in Civil Service people got equal pay based on their grade. It's true that many Blacks didn't get high grades, Civil Service grades, but they did get equal pay.
That allowed the spawning of a middle class population with doctors and lawyers and business people so that I went to a school that was segregated, but it was a school that had high academic standards, probably the most famous segregated school in history, Dunbar High School, where we had-- I had at least five teachers who had PhDs, unheard of at that time.
The reason is that Howard University is in Washington, DC, one of the first black universities, and many of the people who got their PhDs from Columbia or from NYU couldn't get a job at Howard because they were only so many jobs. So they taught in the public schools.
So we had a classical curriculum with Latin and French and Greek and calculus and all of those things, and many of us were very fine students. As a matter of fact, every year, about four or five of our graduates would go to schools in New England, the Ivy League schools like Dartmouth and Harvard and Springfield College and Cornell.
And we had a cadre of people who had the technical skills to be able to do these advanced things that were necessary in aviation so that as the war approached in 1940, the Republicans, believe it or not, had a liberal candidate. His name was Wendell Willkie. He was the first American to talk about the one-world concept, that we're all in this together. We need to relate to each other.
And Franklin Roosevelt, who had had two terms and was going to be the first American president to run for a third term, was running for a third term. He had done the New Deal. He had created the Works Progress Administration. He had created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. He created Social Security.
But he was under challenge from this Republican, Wendell Willkie, who believed in improved race relations and believed in a global approach to foreign policy, not an isolationist approach. So the Democratic Party at that time was split. It was not really a totally liberal party.
In the north, the Democrats were liberal based on the big cities and labor, but in the South, it was segregated and so Roosevelt was always balancing how we going to deal with this. So at the time, he was running for the third term the NAACP began to issue demands. It said if you are going to run for president, we expect you to set up a fair employment practices program so that African-Americans who work in the defense industry will get the same pay as Whites.
We expect you to promote a black general. There had been no black generals there, that's the highest position in the military, and we want to participate in combat units, particularly the Air Corps, and then with the help of the Pullman Car Porters Union, the Pullman Car Porter, most of you know what it is because you're that old, but for young folks, when the trains would travel the country, we didn't have airlines at that time, people would sleep overnight in what they called Pullman cars.
And the people who set up those beds, who pulled them out, were porters, and because of the racism, they decided that the porters had to be Blacks because they were subservient, but the porters, many of whom had college degrees, did so well they made more money than some of the engineers. So as a result, they organized a union, the Pullman Car Porters Union, which was the largest African-American union in the country at that time.
And Philip Randolph said, well, if we don't meet these demands of equal pay of general in combat units, we will not support you. And not only that, we'll have a March on Washington. Some of you know about the March on Washington, August 28, 1963, but that wasn't the first March on Washington.
It was promised in 1940, '41, that there'd be a march on Washington to bring these demands to the public, so in response to this, Roosevelt then signed the Fair Employment Practices Act by executive order, creating equal pay for equal work in the defense industry. He appointed General Benjamin O. Davis Senior as the first black general, and he authorized, not by congressional action, but he authorized by executive action through the Department of Defense, the creation of an experimental program to teach African-Americans to fly combat planes, the 99th Pursuit Squadron.
Then the question was, where would these pilots be trained because most of the training for pilots was done in the South because of the weather and the concern was that if you put a Black here, and a Black here, and a Black here, they would never be able to finish because of the prejudice surrounding them.
So Frederick D. Patterson, who was the president of Tuskegee Institute at that time, now Tuskegee University, said, we have a civilian training program, where they train civilian pilots at Tuskegee, and Tuskegee is a welcoming community because they had a veterans hospital there. They had the university. They had the veterinary school, and it was a integral black community, and this would be where the trainees would be treated fairly.
So they decided to put the training program at Tuskegee, at Tuskegee Institute first, at a place called Moton Field, which was a small airfield about five miles from Tuskegee University, and the reason why Moton Field is so significant, and many of you have heard of the ride that Eleanor Roosevelt, the president's wife at that time, took with the black instructor pilot, Chief Anderson, just as Tuskegee was being created.
And the story of that is very interesting. She went there for a meeting of the Rosenwald Foundation, which is a foundation put together by Julius Rosenwald, who founded Sears and Roebuck, and it was a foundation that provided scholarships for African-Americans who go to graduate school. It so happens after the war, I received one of the last of those fellowships because they ran out of money at that time.
But she was there for a meeting, and she heard about Blacks being trained as civilian pilots, and she went to the field, and she said to the chief instructor pilot, I'd like to know how Negroes fly, and he says, they fly like everybody else, stick and rudder, so she said, well, would you give me a ride?
I said, sure! And the Secret Service, who was all white, said, the president wouldn't like that, and she said to them, well, Franklin would want to know what I think about this project. So she took this plane ride. It was publicized all over the newspapers, particularly the black press, and that set the groundwork for saying that this Tuskegee project would work.
So then after they decided to do the original pilot training, through what they call primary training at Moton Field, they had to have a larger base for the larger planes with basic training and advanced training. And that's where the first affirmative action program in this country was started.
The Tuskegee Army Air Base, they are about 9 miles from Tuskegee, Alabama, was built designed and constructed by black engineers, architects. The McKissock Company is still doing work in that area. The first totally affirmative action program, all the work was done by black technicians, architects, business people, et cetera.
And as I said, the reason this was possible because there was a residue of highly qualified African-Americans. African-American life in the '30s and '40s was built around several major cities, Washington, DC, Atlanta, Georgia, Nashville, Tennessee, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Detroit.
So whenever you have a large number of people with educational opportunities, you have a technical class, and these are the people who are able to build this air base, and many of the-- those of us who enlisted in the Tuskegee Airmen, came from that. The Tuskegee Airmen were recruited from mainly the black colleges and some of the white colleges that were integrated.
They recruited the best students, the best athletes, and the best leaders. So you say they had an overqualified group of people. They couldn't fail. However, the prejudice was such that some of the people who were running the program didn't want it to be successful and perpetuated some of the racist stereotypes. People were treated unfairly in instruction. They were failed out when they shouldn't have been.
And one of the commanders of the air base, Colonel von Kimball, said that Negroes need to be in their place. Because, again, of the pressure from the black community, he was removed, and he was replaced with a lieutenant colonel who had been born in Kentucky, lived in Virginia, by the name of Noel Parrish.
Noel Parrish is one of the heroes of the Tuskegee story because he had been a student. He didn't believe in the stereotypes about African-Americans not having ability. He believed in fairness, and within the context of what he could do in that racist climate, he made sure that we were treated fairly, that the instruction was done fairly, that the evaluation was done fairly.
And so as a result of Noel Parrish's leadership, more and more Blacks began to be able to graduate and become pilots. The first class graduated in April of 1942 with five graduates. One of those graduates later became our commander, Colonel Benjamin O. Davis Junior, who happened to have been the son of the first black general, General Benjamin O. Davis Senior.
And why was he selected? He was the first Black to graduate from West Point in the 20th century. The last Black to graduate before then was Henry O. Flipper who graduated back in 1896, and because of the racism, no Blacks had graduated before then, before 1936.
When Ben Davis was at West Point, not a single social word was spoken to him while he was going through school. He was in the top 10% of his class when they had dancing classes because the military had to teach you how to dance, how to be a gentleman, as it were, he had to dance by himself because the-- we would not permit the white young ladies from the community to dance with him.
Fortunately, he had a good girlfriend and a wife who would see him later, his wife, Agatha, who would see him every weekend, and he managed to get through there, the top 10% of his class. Then he wanted to be a pilot, but they didn't have any black pilots. So he became a calvary officer under his father's command, but when the Tuskegee experiment started, they said, well, let's get Davis. If anybody can do it, he can, Ben Davis, and he graduated in the first class, and he later became the commander of our entire group.
After the first class was graduated, several other classes who graduated every month, and they eventually formed what was called the 99th Pursuit Squadron, which was one group of 16 planes. Usually a pursuit squadron was assigned to a wider group that has 48 or 50 planes in it.
So the question was, what do we do with them? And, again, the racism kept them from being assigned to a white group, and they earned enough to participate as an individual combat group. So the black press again began to say, what are you going to do? Black pilots denied opportunity for combat, segregation, racism again.
And, again, because of that pressure, they were finally sent overseas to North Africa to fight the Rommel and the Germans, and they were assigned just coastal patrol. Then someone said, well, let's let them do some dive bombing where you come in and drop bombs.
In the meantime, they had not encountered any enemy aircraft, and they were saying that the 99th was a failure. Time Magazine ran a story that the 99th pilots were not prepared. When the enemy comes, they run.
They called Colonel Davis back to appear before a congressional committee, and Colonel Davis explained that they had not been given combat training. When they were first assigned to the white group, the white commander gave them a time that was 30 minutes late for the briefing, so they didn't get a briefing on the mission, and when Davis said, what do we do? The white commanders said, y'all fly. No leadership.
So he explained that, but things happen in interesting ways. On the very day they were quizzing him and talking about shutting down the so-called experiment, the Tuskegee Airmen did encounter several planes and shot down eight, and, all of a sudden, they said, well, look, give him another chance.
One general, who shall remain nameless, who's very famous, was going to recommend to the president that he stop coddling those colored boys and eliminate this. Another general said, this is not really something the president wants to hear. Let's give them another chance.
So as a result of that, they continued the program. More and more pilots are being graduated, and they created what is known as the 332nd Fighter Group, which was three squadrons, the 100th, the 301st, and the 302nd, which was to go to Italy and do combat work.
By the time they got to Italy, the United States Air Force was doing massive bombing over Germany, and in those first massive bombing raids, the United States was losing 10, 15, 20, 50 bombers. On these bombers at that time, where they have two people now, they had 10 people.
So if 10 bombers went down, that's 50 people. If 50 bombers went down, that's 500 people. So as a result, they said, we'll either have to stop this or figure out a way of protecting the bombers as they fly deep into German territory.
And that's where the famous P-51 Mustang that we flew comes in. Before the Mustang, the P-47s that would escort the bombers, the B-17s, the B-24s, could only go a certain distance because they didn't have fuel capacity, but the P-51 Mustang, which was designed by the North American Aircraft Company, believe it or not, in 103 days, and that would never happen today, became the savior of the Air Force because once they had the P-51s, we could fly with the bombers all the way to target and back and protect them and help to save them.
So then the job assigned to the 332nd was to escort the bombers. There was some question as, would we have the discipline to stay with the bombers rather than to go and chase Germans to try to get victories and become heroes?
The success of the Tuskegee Airmen is largely due to the discipline that Ben Davis, our general, imposed on us. He said that if you left the bombers you were escorting to try to get victories for yourself, I would court martial you, and he meant it.
So, therefore, we would stay with the bombers. I'm sorry you can't see the pictures, but we would fly-- the bombers were flying about the height of airliners now, 25,000, 26,000 feet. We'd fly 27,000, 28,000 feet. The bombers would be going this way. We would be weaving over them like a protective net to protect them as they go to the target.
And as a result of that, we developed a reputation of saving the bombers. The legend is we never lost a bomber to enemy fighters. Some technicians are trying to say, well, maybe you lost one. Maybe you lost two. But the fact is if the pilots, the bomber pilots felt safer, when they were with us, that meant we had a reputation.
As a result of our combat efforts, we achieved some things that some other groups never achieved. For example, we were the first fighter group to sink a destroyer. Now, you're not supposed to be shooting at ships in the water, but one mission we were coming back, we saw this German destroyer, and one of our guys made a pass at him and started shooting at him, and, by luck, he hit the ammunition, and it blew up ammunition, and it blew up the destroyer.
The white intelligence people didn't want to believe it, but we sent them the gun camera film. So we had proof. So that was one thing that we had done, and then, as was described by Professor Purvis, on the longest mission of the 15th Air Force, the Tuskegee Airmen became the first to shoot down German jet planes, which we did over Berlin and of which I was the first to shoot one of those planes down. That's what the video was about, how we did this over Berlin.
Now the jet planes-- every plane now is jet plane-- the jet planes had just come out then. The United States was behind the curve in developing them. The jet planes would fly about 100 to 125 miles faster than we, and we had no way of catching them. So we had to outfox them, and what we would do is to try to get into their blind spot. Everybody who drives knows there's a blind spot, try to get into the blind spot.
And in the case where I shot down the jet, I was over above the bombers. The jets were coming up down here, and I peeled up, and turned down, and instead of going after the jet so he could run away from me, I went away from the jet and then turned into his blind spot, and they had developed a new electronic gun sight, where you put a ring around your target and adjust it, and it gives you the lead.
I pulled the trigger, [VOCALIZING], boom, right in the middle. He blew up, and he bailed out, and that was the first jet victory over Berlin. And as a result, two of my other pilots shot down jets, and we received the Presidential Unit Citation, which is the highest citation any combat unit could receive.
When the war was over, another group of Tuskegee Airmen had been trained to be B-25 bomber pilots, but the war ended before they could go to Japan. In the meantime, the question was, what do we do with these great fighter pilots? So they put all of us together in one group called the Composite Fighter Bomber Group, never integrated.
However, there was a presidential commission called the [? Gillham ?] Commission that studied the use of Negro troops, and they found not only were the Tuskegee Airmen very successful, but the 761st Tank Battalion that helped to free some of the concentration camps was successful. The 92nd Division, the Miracle at St. Anna, the 94th Division, the Triple Nickle paratroopers.
So there were many African-Americans who did contribute to the war effort, led, of course, by the success of the Tuskegee Airmen. As a result of this, and, again, pressure from the Congress and from the community, President Harry Truman in April of 1948 signed Executive Order 9981 integrating the military. The military was ahead of the schools in integration, providing opportunities to move up the ladder, and as you know now, the military is probably the most integrated unit of government or commerce in our society. I was telling something that you don't know, but Professor Purvis knows.
The commander of the ship that rescued the hostage was an African-American woman rear admiral. That shows how integration has worked. Not only we have gender integration, we have racial integration, and it just went by the boards because it's assumed that, in the military, African-Americans can do whatever they can do and now women-- there are women combat pilots flying F-16s.
So we've made some significant progress. Now the question is, why do we have to go to war to make progress? Why can't we make that same kind of progress?
Well, one reason is, in the military, you have oversight by the Congress, you have oversight by the public, and you have the need to perform on the basis of skill and character so that much of the sexism and racism that goes on in the private sector is not now tolerated in the mil-- it used to be, but that Executive Order 9981 in 1948 made a difference. That was six years before the Brown case decision, the Brown case which integrated schools, which actually didn't happen until 1970 in the South.
So there is a big history lesson to be learned about the Tuskegee Airmen. Now somebody will say, why did you want to fight for a country that was discriminating against you? Well, first of all, African-Americans came here in 1619 ahead of many of the European immigrants who came in the 17th and 18th century.
Secondly, we have worked for this country. We have done science. We've done military. We've worked in Civil War. We've worked in Spanish-American War, and it's our country.
So, therefore, the question was, should we fight for the country? How should we fight for the country? And we went to fight for the country with first-class combat, say just like everybody else, and then once we were there, we felt that once we showed our excellence, the attitude of the society would change, and the attitudes in this society did change.
Many of the-- all of the bomber pilots we were escorting were white, and many times, we would meet them. Oh, I didn't know you guys who flew these red-tailed P-51s were black. You're doing a great job. Thank you.
Now, some didn't want to believe it, but, eventually, as the word got out, the Stars and Stripes, which was the official publication for-- of news for the Mediterranean theater, would talk about all-Negro fighter group, what we had done.
So we helped to change the society, and this raises the question about how do you change a society? Do you just change a society by raising hell, or do you just changing society by sitting out, or do you change a society by pushing them to their limits?
And in a sense, the Tuskegee Airmen pushed the society to the limits. And by performance, we made a change, and that's why I titled this, they said it couldn't be done, but the Tuskegee Airmen did it, and that is the story of the Tuskegee Airmen.
And not only do we feel that we helped to make it possible for Barack Hussein Obama to be president, we helped to make it possible for many African-Americans to move into colleges into different positions to be professors and to be scientists and be aero scientists so that the racial attitudes of the society have changed.
Whereas many people were silent about racism, they may not agreed with it, people now are outspoken against racism, and it's a very small right-wing majority-- minority, that talks about the stereotypes, and one of the things we have to do with education is to continue to break those stereotypes, to bring opportunity.
The Tuskegee Airmen is a story of opportunity. Once you've given an opportunity and work on it, you can be successful, but if you're not given the opportunity, how can you be successful. Similarly, if you have come from a deprived educational economic environment, language different environment, you need some help. You need some support.
I've been to the City University of New York, and we had a long battle about maintaining remedial and support studies. We lost the battle, but we won the war in that people know that you have to provide support, and whether you call remedial or extra class work, it is support.
And that is the thing that I know you're doing here at Cornell. I know it's happening in all communities, but the thing that I'm concerned about-- I'm speaking to an audience that has an average age at least 35, I'm being generous here, I'm concerned that many of our young people, our young students don't understand the heritage, don't understand where we have come from, don't understand how they got to where they are.
I know they have their problems. Their BlackBerry doesn't work, or they can't get their girlfriend on Twitter. I understand that, but the fact is the society is an organic body. It's an organic body that is growing, and it grows interchangeably. And so, therefore, the struggles and the lessons that have happened in the past we need to revisit.
For example, we need a truth and reconciliation committee about waterboarding and torture. We need to look at what happened in the finance industry, talk about the fox watching the chicken coop. The secretary of the treasury helped to build a chicken coop.
So not that Obama didn't need to use somebody like that to bring those people back into it, but one of the things that a university stands for is inquiry, investigation, finding out without the stereotypes of ideology and values of the past, and the reason why I feel so good about talking about the Tuskegee Airmen is that we also are from the past, but we also are predictive of the future.
And we have a national organization. It has over 3,000 members. We have chapters in 46 cities. Many of us who are Tuskegee Airmen and those who follow us in the Air Force go to schools, we give talks, and we have a scholarship fund with almost $3 million in it. We give 70 scholarships to minority students in science, math, and aviation every year.
And we have projected the history of Tuskegee Airmen, and as I said, some of you may want to go to Tuskegee, Alabama near Montgomery, 50 miles, and go to a national historic site, which is Moton Field that I first told you about. It has been recreated and established by the Congress as a national historic site, and you see the hangars. You see models of the airplanes. You see the pictures. You see what it was like where the Tuskegee Airmen were trained.
And we have audio visual where you can hear some of us talking about what we did and how we did it. It's a great part of American history, and I'm so pleased and proud that Dick Ripple and Tom and Professor Purvis brought me here so that I can tell the story of the Tuskegee Airmen. I'm a little disappointed that you don't have 150 people here, but I'm going to deputize each one of you to tell this story to 10 other people. Is that a good idea?
ROSCOE BROWN: 10 other people. Some of you don't know 10 people, but let's find out who will listen to you, seriously, and, actually, the fallout of this-- you're doing this for the archives and so on, the newspaper. The fallout is people hear about the Tuskegee Airmen.
I was talking to Tom, Tom Noel. He mentioned one of the African-American. The Tuskegee Airmen, who are they? You don't live in this world if you don't know who the Tuskegee Airmen is. You don't live in this world if you don't know who Jackie Robinson was. You don't live in this world if you don't know Susan B. Anthony was, right?
That's what it's all about. So you have a little char-- task to do. I'm going to be talking later about military leadership at the ROTC. You're welcome to come and visit. So thank you very much. I'll be able to answer any questions. I know I was so comprehensive you have no questions, but I know you also want to say, well, why is this guy talking like this? So thank you very much.
SPEAKER 1: He said it might even work. All right, we'll try it one more time.
ROSCOE BROWN: We're going to try it one more time. OK.
SPEAKER 1: Well, I mean, otherwise, you'll be in trouble with this gentlemen.
ROSCOE BROWN: Oh, by the way--
SPEAKER 1: He'll fly a P-51 at you.
ROSCOE BROWN: I brought my-- I have been a professor for a long time, and I've learned not to totally trust audiovisuals, so I brought my own audiovisuals, some pictures of me and the Tuskegee Airmen with my airplanes. We'll pass it around. You guys can look at them, and just don't take any one of them. If you'll just pass them around, and after it it's over, you can look at them as well.
One of these pictures was taken by a very famous photographer for Life Magazine by the name is Toni Frisell. She's one of the first great women photographers, and they sent her to Ramitelli in Italy to take pictures of us because they want to book a first-page story in the Life Magazine.
It turns out that the war ended before they did the story, but we have the pictures, and the Toni Frisell collection in the Library of Congress has all of these great pictures in it. You might want to look at that. You get it online from the Library of Congress. Now we're going to try this again?
SPEAKER 1: Let me ask you one more question [INAUDIBLE].
ROSCOE BROWN: I put him on the spot, see? I love tech-- see, my daughters and granddaughters are technicians. They are techies, computer techies, so I love to put them on the spot.
SPEAKER 1: Well, yeah, this man is high falutin' scientist in his [INAUDIBLE].
ROSCOE BROWN: Well, I know that, but [INAUDIBLE].
OK, what's your question?
SPEAKER 1: When you came back, and when you were reintegrated into civilian life, and it was still segregated, did you have experience in--
ROSCOE BROWN: Yeah, well, I was very fortunate. When I came back, I had already graduated from Springfield College. I was a valedictorian of my class, and I got some scholarships to work for my PhD at NYU, and I did my work in exercise physiology. I was one of the founders of the sports medicine movement.
And I got my PhD when I was 29, and I was professor when I was 30. So, therefore, I've been teaching a long time, and being one of five African-American professors at New York University, I stood out, and I took leadership. I was chairman of the AUP chapter, one of the largest in the country.
I was chairman of the Faculty Welfare Committee. I was chairman of the Faculty Senate, because, as you see, I'm not reluctant about talking what I think needs to be done, and I was very fortunate.
Unfortunately, people of equal talent to me did not have those opportunities. They were denied opportunity to go to doctoral programs. They were denied opportunities to get promoted, and most of the jobs in the '50s and '60s and early '70s for black PhDs were in African-American colleges.
Once the Civil Rights movement started, all of a sudden they swept them out of the African-American colleges and into the Cornell's of the world. So there's always an unintended consequence, but one unintended consequence during segregation, 13% of the teachers in the nation were African-American.
I won't ask you what percent is African-American now, but it's less than 5%. You see the big cities with large numbers, but in terms of the total teacher population, and that's because when the schools were forced to integrate in the '70s, the first thing they did was to fire the black teachers and principals, in addition to which many other opportunities in business and science and architecture and medicine opened up for African-Americans to go to college.
At one time, 85% of all African-Americans had their degrees from historically black colleges, mainly in the areas of education and health sciences and social services. Now only 28% of African-American bachelor's degrees come from historically black colleges because there's so-- there's 4,000 colleges out there, and there are black students in all of those.
So that's a change. It's what's called unintended consequences, although in the final analysis, it's better for the society, but still for those institutions have a historically orientation to helping low income and minority students should continue to survive, and I know Cornell and some of the other colleges work with some of the black colleges. Now, do you have this thing moving now?
SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE] 38 minutes.
ROSCOE BROWN: Let's try it.
- Fighter pilot gets all the action. I knew it was a jet. I [INAUDIBLE]. I knew what I had to do and said, let's go. You don't internalize it. There's no-- no analysis there.
- Ron and his flight are here. The Germans are here.
- I developed a little thing where I would pull up, give it full power, put it way up, stick back, right rudder, and then shut it. Boom! It would go down and almost a stalling point, so that when I flipped and pushed it down, the speed increases, and then I would flip back up.
- The move is a modified split S that gives Brown an extra boost of speed while putting him on an intercept course with the 262s.
ROSCOE BROWN: We're dropping our wing [INAUDIBLE].
- When I came out of the split S, I could see him. He was coming up, and this [INAUDIBLE].
- Roscoe Brown seizes the opportunity. The German jet flames, shedding debris before the pilot bails out. It's a confirmed victory, the third NE-262 downed that day.
- But it wasn't over now. Because I made these radical moves and got this guy, I had since lost my wingman, and the wingman was chasing somebody else when I'm up over Berlin, 25,000 feet, and I look around for somebody to join.
And I see this P-51 silhouette about 12 o'clock, and I said, look, I didn't have radio contact. I didn't know who he was. I said, look, let me join you.
- Roscoe Brown moves in closer to what he believes to be a friendly P-51.
- So when I started [INAUDIBLE], I saw that the P-51 had a Germans cross on it. We knew that the Germans had captured P-51s and were infiltrating some of the formations to try to get closer. And so I said, well, let me go get him.
- Brown goes on the attack, but the German takes evasive action. Brown pulls the stick in tight, straining to [INAUDIBLE] on his enemy.
- I started to pull in tight, tight, tight, and I'm gaining on him, and then I looked at my fuel gauge. My fuel gauge was a little bit below half. I said, well, I got two things to do. One, I can get this guy and get this victory and parachute and hope they don't kill me, or I can say bye, bye and go home. So I said, I'm here [INAUDIBLE]. [INAUDIBLE] get back south, and I flew about 70 miles by myself over enemy territory.
- Roscoe Brown returns to base victorious.
- It's probably a standard [INAUDIBLE] for any group during the war against the Me 262. The Mustang is a great aircraft, but it shouldn't have been shooting at Me 262s [INAUDIBLE].
- In addition to this stunning achievement, the Tuskegee Airmen later found out the Berlin mission is the longest escort of the war.
- And we did show them. Actually, we were very damn good in our escort, and, later, we got the Presidential Unit Citation and the guys were really, really so happy.
- By war's end, the 332nd had downed 108 enemy aircraft received 744 air medals, 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 14 bronze stars, and one Silver Star. But despite the accolades for their efforts overseas, the Tuskegee Airmen returned to a segregated America, indifferent to their achievements.
- I was coming down the gangplank from a boat that brought me back to the States, and at the bottom of the step of the gangplank there was sign that said, colored troops to the right, white troops to the left, separated again. At that time, I said, well, you know, this is a pity.
- But the war efforts of the Tuskegee Airmen will not be forgotten.
- Our experience dispelled the myths and biases of the [INAUDIBLE] our capabilities in how we were [INAUDIBLE]. So [INAUDIBLE] to change.
- In 1948, by order of President Harry Truman, the armed forces of the United States were integrated.
The war record of the Tuskegee Airmen in the skies of Europe had shaken the foundations of entrenched American racism. This small, but resolute, group of African-American men, defined by hardship, danger, and adversity had proven the fundamental injustice of a segregated military.
But you've got to know inside that racism is wrong. You've got to know inside that you have the capacity of anybody else, and given the opportunity, you will overcome. [INAUDIBLE].
ROSCOE BROWN: All right, that was worth waiting for, wasn't it?
AUDIENCE: Yes, it was.
ROSCOE BROWN: We did wait.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] questions. I wonder if you could say a little something about your mother and father.
ROSCOE BROWN: I thought I did. I did. I grew up-- maybe you hadn't come in. I grew up in [INAUDIBLE] Washington, DC. My mother-- were-- both of my parents were college graduates. My mother was a teacher, and my father was a dentist who later became in Roosevelt's Black Cabinet in charge of health for blacks all over the country.
He was the health minister for African-Americans. During the '30s, during the Roosevelt administration, the subcabinet officers-- they always had something for Negro affairs in labor, in education, and health, and that was called the Black Cabinet, and it was coordinated by a woman named Mary McLeod Bethune after whom Bethune-Cookman College is named, and they would meet periodically with Mrs. Roosevelt, sometimes with the president, to give advice on black affairs.
My father's function was health, and he developed a concept, which is now being used. He called it the National Negro Health Week and every school, every community, every church had to do some health testing and some health education long before it became prominent.
As a matter of fact, he helped Metropolitan Life set up their health education program back in the '20s. So they were a major influence on me, as were my teachers. As I explained, I had PhDs who were teachers. People always set the bar very high, so pursuit of excellence and achievement was part of my generation, uh, the Charles Drews of the world developed a blood bank, Judge William Hastie, Robert Weaver, the first Black Cabinet officer, Eleanor Holmes Norton, one of the first black Congresswomen, and countless physicians, professors, and so on.
And that was the generation I came from, and as I said, it centered around population centers like Washington and St. Louis, and Detroit, and Richmond, Virginia, and Louisville, Kentucky, and Nashville, and Atlanta, and New York and Philadelphia.
And that's where this move came. To get a reflection on this, the population of the country at the time of World War II was 130 million. There were 13 million African-Americans. The population of the country now is about 320 million, and there are 40 million African-Americans, and African-Americans are no longer the predominant minority. There are about 42 million Hispanic Americans.
So the world has changed, and that's why looking back into history is so important to understand how we got to be where we are, and each one of us has a responsibility. Those of us who are younger and those of us who are older have a responsibility to tell that story, how do you think that happened? Why do you think it happened?
Race has been a predominant concern with African-American-- with this country. You know, the Constitution didn't include women and didn't include African-Americans. African-Americans were three-fifths of a person. Women were counted, but they couldn't vote. Women couldn't vote until 1920 in this country.
Can you believe that? You wouldn't stand for that today, but having had that opportunity, what percent of Americans vote in the presidential election? About 60%. That means about 40% of the people are not voting. In the election where George Bush got elected, only 52% of the people voted.
So you get what you pay for, and we struggle for the vote. We struggle for civilization, for citizenship. We struggle for this opportunity to have this open society, and [INAUDIBLE] said don't mess it up. And when we have this open society with no regulation on finance, they mess it up. So we've got to come back and set up some of those barriers to make the society better, and that's what your task is, not only to talk about the Tuskegee Airmen, but talk about the better world that you, me, and all of us are going to help make possible. Any other questions? Yes, sir?
AUDIENCE: I had asked you earlier if you knew Coleman Young who was--
ROSCOE BROWN: Yeah, Coleman. Oh, the--
AUDIENCE: He asked-- excuse me, I'm from Detroit. He'd become-- he became the first black mayor of--
ROSCOE BROWN: Of Detroit? The story of the alumni of Tuskegee Airmen, we have had mayors. We've had cabinet officers, William Coleman, who was my roommate in flying school, became the secretary of transportation under Gerald Ford. We've had Percy Sutton, who created Inner City Broadcasting Company and saved the Apollo. We've have had congresspeople. We've had physicians. We've had scientists so that it was an overqualified group of people.
That's one of the reasons why we're successful, but you-- at that point in time, you had to be better. You had to be overqualified to be recognized, and one of the challenges we have for African-American youth today is to continue that strife. Just because a few people have made it, just because Oprah has made it and Obama's made it, that doesn't mean that you're going to make it just because you happen to be African-American. You've got to work for it.
And that's difficult because there are still-- you know, still stereotype theory, you-- you know that theory? The theory is that if people have a-- there's a stereotype a group-- some people internalize that stereotype and work against their own efforts, and he has some research that shows that African-American with similar scores as white Americans in some colleges don't do as well because they're responding to the stereotype that they're not supposed to be as smart and as good.
You've got to work on that. And the only way you get to deal with these things is to talk about them. That's the wonderful thing about a university environment. It gives you a chance to talk about the issues and to debate and to understand what's going on. That's why I love to come to colleges.
I learn more than I give, I'm sure. When I come to these colleges, I'm very pleased that Dick and Tom and all these folks invited me here. Thank you very much. Any other question? I don't want to cut you off.
AUDIENCE: You mentioned Tuskegee Scholarships. Can you talk about that for a moment? How does Ithaca, downtown Ithaca--
ROSCOE BROWN: Well what we do--
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] to that?
ROSCOE BROWN: Well, what we do-- that's a good point. Our organization, Tuskegee Airmen Incorporated, has about 48 chapters, and each of the chapters is usually close to an air base. I don't know what the nearest chapter is here, but it's usually close to an airbase, and they recruit applications from the schools.
Many of us go and talk to kids in the schools related to our areas, and I can, if you want to know, I'll find out which one is closest here. But that's-- and they recruit applications. We have a committee that reviews them, and 70 people get scholarships, and they've done very well. Our success rate is very high.
I must also mention one other Civil Rights hero, who's a hero and a friend of mine, Jackie Robinson, Jackie Robinson who broke the barrier in baseball and, you know, this year, they honored the 45th anniversary, not the 50th anniversary, 60th anniversary, 60th anniversary, and Rachel Robinson is a very good friend of mine.
Her brother was a Tuskegee Airmen with me, and I knew Jackie before he actually became a person in the US. The reason I mentioned that is the Jackie Robinson Scholarship Program is the best scholarship program for minority students in the country. Over the years, we've given over 1,200 scholarships of at least $5,000. We raised a couple of million dollars each year, and we have a 98% graduation rate for the people we give scholarships to.
Why is that? We have a mentoring program. Every student is attached to one of us on the committee as a mentor. So it isn't just giving the money. It's doing the mentoring. And that's something that I'm sure you do here at Cornell as well.
The networking and mentoring is so important for the success of students in college, particularly today when there's so many distractions, ranging from music, to BlackBerries, to iPods, and so on. Any other questions? Yeah?
AUDIENCE: When and where is your next meeting of your organization?
ROSCOE BROWN: Our next meeting is we-- we're going to Las Vegas. It's August 6th through the 10th in Las Vegas. It's very--
Actually, now the reason we do that, we have regions. We have the eastern region, the central region, and the western region. And each region picks their site. They were going to go to San Diego, where we've been, but they had some logistical problems in Las Vegas. It wants every penny that we can give them, so we're going to Las Vegas.
But we were in Philadelphia last year for our convention. We were in Atlanta the year before. We were in Texas, where we met your daughter and Leon Johnson the year before.
AUDIENCE: Is General Johnson still the administrative officer [INAUDIBLE]?
ROSCOE BROWN: Not anymore. People get elected, and so if you don't run, you don't get elected, and we're trying-- we're trying to build young leadership. We have a chapter president and so on, and they are elected, and those of us who are older like younger people to take over, and sometimes they do. Sometimes they don't. But we have a great organization.
AUDIENCE: When is it?
ROSCOE BROWN: Pardon me?
AUDIENCE: When is that one in Vegas?
ROSCOE BROWN: August 6th through the 10th. We have a website, Tuskegee Airmen Incorporated. You can check out our website. You find out everything about us. You know, everybody who's anybody has a website now.
You don't have one. I don't have one. But, anyway, seriously, that's the way we communicate. We do that. Very good.
SPEAKER 1: How about Twitter?
ROSCOE BROWN: What?
SPEAKER 1: Anybody who's anybody-- Twitter is also.
ROSCOE BROWN: Oh, well-- that's a game. You can't do life in 158 characters, you know? You really can't. OK, thank you very much.
AUDIENCE: Thank you very much.
ROSCOE BROWN: I have--
We've received your request
You will be notified by email when the transcript and captions are available. The process may take up to 5 business days. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about this request.
Dr. Roscoe Brown describes his experience as commander of the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group during World War II. Nicknamed the "Tuskegee Airmen," the 332nd was the first U.S. Army Air Corps unit in the nation's history to enlist African American pilots.
Brown spoke Apr. 28, 2009 at Hans Bethe House. He and the rest of the 332nd were honored with the Congressional Gold Medal in March, 2009.