Monday, September 01, 2014
and still feeling the effects of having plunged back into a past of so much pain -- but with a sense of victory as well.
I believe that I will find new power in the words to "We shall overcome" after having experienced the Montgomery to Selma Historic Trail with Superintendent Christine Biggers of the Tuskegee Airfield site. Seeing it all through her eyes so enriched the adventure and brought such vibrancy to our day together.
To see Berkeley's Tuskegee Airman Wendell Lipscomb's photograph among the trainers of pilots was a strong reminder of how closely-lived was my world to that history. I knew Wendell, and was aware that he'd served his country in that way, but more because he returned to the University of California afterwards where he became a noted psychiatrist specializing in the development of programs to combat and control alcoholism. To see his huge image exhibited on the wall of Hanger #1 made it all surreal. Our Armed Forces chose the best and the brightest, obviously, men who didn't disappoint, but served their country with honor and distinction as the "Red Tails".
When I slipped into my handsome red Tuskegee Airmen's jacket (a gift from Christine upon our departure), it was in honor of Wendell, Kenneth "Bunny" Hernandez, Francis "Frank" Collier, and Les Williams (of San Mateo) -- all airmen I'd known at the time, and dated before the US Army Air Force discovered them and accepted them for service. I must have been all of 17 and 18, in my last year of high school and eager to enter adulthood. On May 24 of 1942 -- months after war was declared -- I married Melvin Reid whose friends were already enlisted and serving.
It appears that the Air Force and I had similar tastes in men!
Now to spend some time processing those unforgettable days of last week, and sorting out just how to incorporate the new learnings into my presentations. I'm no longer inclined to downplay Black history in favor of blending it into American history "since it was something we all lived." Not sure how to do that -- but my talks will surely have to be edited in some way to include some new thinking. The issue is far more complex than before these new experiences.
After all, I've been saying all along that when we give up our complexity, we sacrifice much of our truth.
This is where those words get tested.
Posted by Betty Reid Soskin at 11:47 AM
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