Wednesday, February 25, 2015
The Scarlet Scourge
In his day, Matt Brown was considered one of the best football players in the football powerhouse state of Ohio. Not a big man at all and weighing in as a senior in high school at 157 pounds, Brown played in an era when the single wing formation was the offense of the day. Brown, a fast and strong blocker, was a natural quarterback and fullback, who blocked for the halfback who ran and threw passes under the single wing formation.
Matt Brown, a son of Solmon and Thenia Brown, was born in Dublin, Georgia in 1922. The Brown family soon moved to Canton, Ohio. Ironically Canton is the home of the National Football Hall of Fame. And, it was football which made Matt Brown famous in the State of Ohio.
Brown was more than a fast and effective blocker. In those days, most players played both ways on offense and defense. It was on defense where Brown shined at linebacker. Although no defensive stats from his days at McKinley High in Canton, Ohio and at Ohio State University survive, Brown was regarded by his peers as one of the best of the Scarlet and Gray, the runner up for the 1944 NCAA National Championship.
Brown enrolled in McKinley High, an integrated high school in Canton. McKinley High is seventh in the nation in all time football wins with 739, coming in behind its chief, long time rival, Massillon. The two Starke County schools, located 8 miles apart, are the all time kings of Ohio high school football and two of the nation's greatest football programs. McKinley won the 1934 High School National Championship. Massillon was the top team in the nation in 1935, 1936 and 1940.
Matt Brown joined the team in 1939 as a 160-pound right half back under coach John Reed. One of his idols at McKinley was the great Marion Motley, a fellow Georgian, who went on to become a stalwart member of the Cleveland Browns and the second African American member of NFL Hall of Fame in Canton.
In the 1939 contest, Matt Brown managed to score his team's only touchdown in yet another loss to Massillon.
After Massillon's victory in the 1940, their legendary coach Paul Brown paid homage to Matt Brown, the McKinley captain, for fighting his heart out in an effort to win the game. It would be Paul Brown's last game as a high school coach and Matt Brown's last as a high school player. The following year, Coach Brown took the reins of the Ohio State Buckeyes. After the end of the war, he became the coach of the Cleveland Browns leading them to 4 AAFC titles and 3 NFL championships.
For his efforts in his final two seasons, Matt Brown was named to the All-Ohio team. He was generally regarded as McKinley's best player in the 1940 season. Going with Coach Brown to Ohio State was his assistant coach, Carroll Whiddoes. Both men remembered Matt's heart, drive and determination in the two games against Massillon and convinced him to join the team. They made a wise choice as Dublin native lettered for three seasons.
The 1943 Buckeyes, decimated by the loss of many of their best players to the war effort, managed to earn three easy victories, but the Ohioans lost twice as many games in Paul Brown's final season in the collegiate ranks. In 1944, Brown joined the Navy and coached a team at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center.
For most of the 1943 season, Matt Brown was nagged by injuries. On October 9, 1943 at Ross Field in Chicago, Matt Brown was a part of trio of backs who made college football history. In the game against Great Lakes, Matt Brown started at fullback, Red Williams started at quarterback, and Jasper Harris was the starting halfback. What was remarkable about that lineup was that all three backs were graduates of the same high school, McKinley High in Canton. It was a mark which has rarely, if ever, been matched in the 145 years of college football. Brown played some at quarterback, who in the single wing formation was primarily only a blocking back.
It was during his junior season of 1944 when Matt Brown stepped it up another notch. Brown was a monster on defense, then under Coach Whiddoes. Brown, on defense, lead the team which easily outpaced all of its opponents, except in the Michigan game, which they won by only four points.
Brown was one of two starting offensive backs with experience. The other was Lee Horvath, a graduate student in dental school, who was allowed to come back and play in his last year of eligibility. Horvath had a breakout season in 1944, gaining 669 rushing yards and 1,200 all-purpose yards as the Buckeyes turned in a 9 0 record and finished second in the national polls, behind the powerful and unbeatable Army team.
In 1945, Brown was a stalwart on defense, playing with Oliver Cline, who went on to play six seasons in professional football. The Buckeyes finished 7-2, with a close loss to Michigan and a stunning upset by Purdue.
After leaving football at the end of the 1945 season, Matt Brown returned to the athletic fields in 1948 when he was hired by Coach Bill Bell as the boxing coach of the North Carolina A&T Aggies. Brown coached the Aggie boxing team to a Central Inter-collegiate Athletic Association tide in 1952. In 1952 and 1953, Brown's tennis team garnered the conference championship.
Brown left A&T in 1954. Fourteen years later he returned as the head tennis coach and assistant football coach under Hornsby Howell.
At A&T, Brown was heralded as one of the university's exceptional backfield coaches. His star players included William "Red" Jackson, the Aggies' All-American quarterback in the early 1950's. Brown also coached Art Statuni, who won the NCAA heavyweight boxing championship in 1953.
After a long illness, Matt Brown died on June 22, 1976 in a Greensboro, N.C. hospital. Brown was still in the prime of life as a coach.
In his brief stay on the Earth, Matt Brown was one of the lucky ones, a group of young African American Laurens County boys from the 191os and 1920s, which included boxing champion Sugar Ray Robinson, baseball all star Quincy Trouppe, Negro League footballer Otis Troup, inventor Claude Harvard, N.A.S.A. physicist Robert Shurney and Tuskegee Airmen; Cummings, John Whitehead and Marion Rodgers. These young men were able to escape the bondage of the South's social and political ways of their youths to exceed at the highest levels in athletics, science and military service.
Friday, February 6, 2015
Sunday, January 18, 2015
Please join the Laurens County Historical Society, First African Baptist Church, Dublin, GA, the Dublin-Laurens Tourism Council, the Dublin Downtown Development Authority and the City of Dublin in erecting a proper and fitting monument to the first public speech of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
To contribute to the this historic monument please go to:
To contribute to the this historic monument please go to:
THE FIRST PUBLIC SPEECH OF
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
Photograph at the top is @ Scott B. Thompson, Sr. It was taken on April 15, 2012 of Joey Howard of Dublin as he recited Dr. Martin Luther King's speech at First African Baptist Church, Dublin, Georgia.
THE FIRST PUBLIC SPEECH OF
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
On April 17, 1944 the Colored Elks Clubs of Georgia held their state convention at First A.B. Church in Dublin. The event was hosted by the Norman G. McCall Elks Lodge of Dublin. The Georgia Elks clubs each sponsored a high school student in a statewide oratory contest. The winner of the contest was from Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta. In his speech, the fifteen-year-old student, who would enter Morehouse College in the fall, spoke on the topic of "The Negro and the Constitution."
The young man called for the better health and education of his people. He spoke of Christianity and the Golden Rule. He urged fair play and free opportunities at home, the same as we were fighting for in Europe and Asia. He suggested that if Negroes were given the franchise, "they will be vigilant and defend, even with their arms, the ark of federal liberty from treason and destruction by her enemies." Little did the audience realize what they were witnessing.
In a compiled autobiography, the young man recalls that the reading of this essay was his first public political speech. The young man spent the next twenty four years of his life fighting for the constitutional rights of the people of his race. By now, I know you have guessed who he was. The young man, who came to Dublin sixty nine years ago, was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Here is Martin Luther King's speech:
"My heart throbs anew in the hope that inspired by the example of Lincoln, imbued with the spirit of Christ, [America] will cast down the last barrier to perfect freedom," said the young King. "And I with my brother of blackest hue possessing at last my rightful heritage and holding my head erect, may stand beside the Saxon--a Negro--and yet a man!"
Negroes were first brought to America in 1620 when England legalized slavery both in England and the colonies and America; the institution grew and thrived for about 150 years upon the backs of these black men. The empire of King Cotton was built and the southland maintained a status of life and hospitality distinctly its own and not anywhere else.
On January 1, 1863 the proclamation emancipating the slaves which had been decreed by President Lincoln in September took effect--millions of Negroes faced a rising sun of a new day begun. Did they have habits of thrift or principles of honesty and integrity? Only a few! For their teachings and duties had been but two activities--love of Master, right or wrong, good or bad, and loyalty to work. What was to be the place for such men in the reconstruction of the south?
America gave its full pledge of freedom seventy-five years ago. Slavery has been a strange paradox in a nation founded on the principles that all men are created free and equal. Finally after tumult and war, the nation in 1865 took a new stand--freedom for all people. The new order was backed by amendments to the national constitution making it the fundamental law that thenceforth there should be no discrimination anywhere in the "land of the free" on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.
Black America still wears chains. The finest Negro is at the mercy of the meanest white man. Even winners of our highest honors face the class color bar. Look at a few of the paradoxes that mark daily life in America. Marian Anderson was barred from singing in the Constitution Hall, ironically enough, by the professional daughters of the very men who founded this nation for liberty and equality. But this tale had a different ending. The nation rose in protest, and gave a stunning rebuke to the Daughters of the American Revolution and a tremendous ovation to the artist, Marian Anderson, who sang in Washington on Easter Sunday and fittingly, before the Lincoln Memorial. Ranking cabinet members and a justice of the supreme court were seated about her. Seventy-five thousand people stood patiently for hours to hear a great artist at a historic moment. She sang as never before with tears in her eyes. When the words of "America" and "Nobody Knows De Trouble I Seen" rang out over that great gathering, there was a hush on thee sea of uplifted faces, black and white, and a new baptism of liberty, equality and fraternity. That was a touching tribute, but Miss Anderson may not as yet spend the night in any good hotel in America. Recently she was again signally honored by being given the Bok reward as the most distinguished resident of Philadelphia. Yet she cannot be served in many of the public restaurants of her home city, eveen after it has declared her to be its best citizen.
So, with their right hand they raise to high places the great who have dark skins, and with their left, they slap us down to keep us in "our places." "Yes, America you have stripped me of my garments, you have robbed me of my precious endowment."
We cannot have an enlightened democracy with one great group living in ignorance. We cannot have a healthy nation with one tenth of the people ill-nourished, sick, harboring germs of disease which recognize no color lines--obey no Jim Crow laws. We cannot have a nation orderly and sound with one group so ground down and thwarted that it is almost forced into unsocial attitudes and crime. We cannot be truly Christian people so long as we flaunt the central teachings of Jesus: brotherly love and the Golden Rule. We cannot come to full prosperity with one great group so ill-delayed that it cannot buy goods. So as we gird ourselves to defend democracy from foreign attack, let us see to it that increasingly at home we give fair play and free opportunity for all people.
Today thirteen million black sons and daughters of our forefathers continue the fight for the translation of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments from writing on the printed page to an actuality. We believe with them that "if freedom is good for any it is good for all," that we may conquer southern armies by the sword, but it is another thing to conquer southern hate, that if the franchise is given to Negroes, they will be vigilant and defend even with their arms, the ark of federal liberty from treason and destruction by her enemies.
The spirit of Lincoln still lives; that spirit born of the teachings of the Nazarene, who promised mercy to the merciful, who lifted the lowly, strengthened the weak, ate with publicans, and made the captives free. In the light of this divine example, the doctrines of demagogues shiver in their chaff. Already closer understanding links Saxon and Freedman in mutual sympathy.
America experiences a new birth of freedom in her sons and daughters; she incarnates the spirit of her martyred chief. Their loyalty is repledged; their devotion renewed to the work He left unfinished. My heart throbs anew in the hope that inspired by the example of Lincoln, imbued with the spirit of Christ, they will cast down the last barrier to perfect freedom. And I with my brother of blackest hue possessing at last my rightful heritage and holding my head erect, may stand beside the Saxon--a Negro--and yet a man!
Photograph at the top is @ Scott B. Thompson, Sr. It was taken on April 15, 2012 of Joey Howard of Dublin as he recited Dr. Martin Luther King's speech at First African Baptist Church, Dublin, Georgia.
Thursday, January 8, 2015
A Baseball Survivor
Bill Robinson died on the last Sunday in July. Unless you are an "old school" baseball fan, you probably wouldn't even know his name. Robinson, the biggest star of the 1962 Dublin Braves team, was revered by those who knew him as a decent man, one who was a well-respected hitting instructor and coach. His pupils won two world championships. A sixteen-year veteran of the big leagues, Robinson won a World Series ring of his own with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1979. This is the story of a man who was once billed as "the black Mickey Mantle" and survived the intense pressures of major league baseball for a successful 47-year career in "America's pastime."
William Henry "Bill" Robinson was born on June 26, 1943 in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. After high school, Bill was signed by the Milwaukee Braves and assigned to their farm team in Wellsville. At the age of 18, Bill Robinson was ranked by scouts as one of the best rookie outfielders ever, better than Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson. At first, his future in baseball seemed dim. After a poor season in Eau Claire, Robinson was assigned to the Dublin Braves in the Georgia Florida League. In his first game with Dublin, Robinson impressed the fans with a single and a double to drive in four runs. Under the tutelage of the wily veteran manager Bill Steinecke, Robinson reversed his downward spiral and posted a highly respectable .304 average with 21 extra-base hits in 207 at bats.
Following a system wide reorganization of the minor league farm systems, Robinson was assigned to the Waycross Braves in 1963. Bill's star continued to rise with a .316 average at Waycross and a .348 average with Yakima in 1964. Facing stiffer competition, Robinson's stats tailed off with the Atlanta Crackers the following year. An International League all-star with the Richmond Braves in '66, Robinson excited the big league team in Atlanta and scouts around the country with an outstanding .312 average, 20 home runs and 79 runs batted in. After five years of bus riding and hectic living, Robinson finally made it to the majors during a late season call up in the Braves' first season in Atlanta on September 20, 1966. In 11 at bats, he garnered three hits.
With Roger Maris being traded to the Cardinals and the future of an aging and aching Mickey Mantle in doubt, New York Yankee manager Ralph Houk salivated at the thought of Robinson in his outfield. "He has the best arm I have ever seen," Houk told a reporter for the Washington Post. On November 29, 1966, the Yankees traded the veteran third sacker Clete Boyer to the Braves for the young Robinson, who carried with him a .298 average, a rocket arm and the possessed the power to become what the Yankees hoped would be "the black Mickey Mantle."
An early indicator of Robinson's throwing ability was his skill in throwing rocks at his antagonists. Somewhat of a runt in comparison to the bullies of Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, Robinson compensated for his scrawniness. "When I was about 10 years old, there was one boy who used to beat me up all the time. One day I waited at the top of a hill and split his head open with a rock from 20 yards. I guess I could hit a guy with a rock at a hundred yards. I was pretty accurate," Robinson chuckled.
After developing a soreness in his right throwing arm in the Venezuelan winter ball league, Robinson underwent elbow surgery in the winter of 1967. Robinson struggled in his rookie season. With manager Houk's unfaltering patience and encouragement, Bill Robinson once again reversed his slump and surged to bat .260 in the second half of the 1967 campaign.
Robinson's sophomore season with the Yankees mirrored his rookie season. Mired in a horrific slump at the all-star break, Bill silenced his doubters with a .282 second half, and solidified a starting position for the 1969 season. Robinson returned his blessings to the community by actively participating in youth programs in New York. After a dismal season in '69, Robinson feared his baseball career was over. At the age of twenty-six, Bill appeared to be headed for the verge of obscurity. Yankee fans, instinctively and unmercifully, booed Bill. The pressure to replace "the Mick" was unbearable. After three average seasons in the minors with Syracuse, Tuscon and Eugene, Robinson finally returned to the major leagues toward the end of the 1972 season with the Philadelphia Phillies, who hoped to capitalize on his resurgent power hitting.
Robinson, who could play all three outfield positions, led the Pacific Coast League in rbi at the time of his call up to the Phillies. With the pressure of being expected to perform with the legendary Yankees gone, Robinson returned to his youthful form. He hated to go to the ball park (in New York) where he tried too hard to perform up to the impossible standards set for him by management and fans alike. Frustration led to more frustration. The White Sox had assigned Bill to their Tuscon team in 1971. Robinson felt he was lied to by the Chicago team and actually quit baseball, only to be traded to the Phillies, a move which rejuvenated his career.
Robinson shed his demons and began to enjoy baseball again. Wally Moses, a native of Montgomery County, Georgia and the Phil's hitting instructor, resurrected Robinson's natural hitting style. Bill entered the 1973 season, hoping just to remain on the team for 52 days to qualify for a pension. Little did "Robby" know he would still be around a decade later. 1973 was Bill's best season so far. He batted .288 and hit 25 home runs. Seventh in at bats per home run, ninth in slugging percentage and tenth in extra base hits in the National League, Robinson appeared headed for stardom at the age of thirty. But Robinson's roller coaster career took another dip in 1974 and he was traded to the cross state rival Pittsburgh Pirates in the off season.
A valuable substitute outfielder, Robinson played well for the Pirates and played for the Bucs in the 1975 post season playoffs against the Cincinnati Reds. Though Bill accepted his job as utility outfielder, he wanted to play full time. When Pirate outfielder Dave Parker went down in May 1975, Robinson got his shot at starting in Pirate outfield. Robby was asked to play third base when Richie Hebner went on the disabled list. Bill enjoyed playing on the hot corner as it kept him more involved in the game. Bill Robinson responded to the challenge both eagerly and favorably, since the Pirates had a trio of outfield stars. Though he ended the 1976 season with a .303 batting average, Robinson went into August batting at an amazing clip of.340. With 64 rbi and 21 home runs, Bill Robinson was chosen as the team's most valuable player and finished 21st in the balloting for the National League's Most Valuable Player. Robinson had reached the prime of his career. Suddenly, at the age of 33, he was on the verge of becoming a superstar.
Bill Robinson entered the 1977 season, his 10th full year in the majors, with high expectations. A series of ham string injuries, a bad shoulder and an aching leg couldn't hinder his determination to show his 1976 season was no fluke. Though he wasn't considered for the 1976 all star team with a .335 average, Robinson thought he might have a chance in 1977. Robinson was devastated when his name didn't appear on the 1977 ballot. Thoroughly disgusted at what he termed as a farce of a voting system, Robinson vowed not to play, even if was selected as a substitute.
Robinson continued to excel. He got his first ever on screen interview with the venerable Howard Cosell on Monday Night Baseball. Bill told the bumptious Cosell that he had alleviated the pressure and went up to the plate without any worries. When called upon after first baseman Willie Stargell was scratched from the lineup due to an injury, Robinson moved across the diamond for the good of the team.
1977 was Robinson's career year. Eleventh in the balloting for the NL Most Valuable Player, Robinson finished eighth in the league in slugging percentage and runs batted in, and sixth in doubles posted career highs in home runs (26), runs batted in (104) and batting average (.304.)
Bill Robinson returned to the outfield in 1978, replacing Al Oliver, who had been traded to Texas. With a contract extension in hand removing him from the bottom of the pay list for regular players, Robinson looked to improve on his totals of the '77 season. After getting off to a hot start, a nagging thumb injury altered his outstanding swing. After six seasons of virtual serenity, the pressure began to nag at Bill once again. His hitting had gone from consistently torrid to woefully inconsistent.
The Pirates began acquiring new players to step in, just in case Robinson faltered in 1979. His average dropped to .246, the third worst of his career. Just when it looked like he would once again fail, Robinson turned it up and moved to the top of the team's offensive statistical categories. Robinson's return to brilliance helped the Pirates to win the National League's Eastern Division pennant.
The Pirates adopted the song We Are Family as their theme song for 1979. The Pirates easily swept the powerful Reds to face the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. In a rematch of the '71 series, the Pirates won in the seventh and deciding game. Hitless in three at bats in the league championship series, Robinson got five hits in the series to win his first World Series championship ring.
Still considered a good utility player, the Pirates held onto the aging Robinson after his home run total fell to 12 in the 1980 season, though he did hit .287. Nagging injuries to Willie Stargell and Dave Parker kept Robinson in the lineup despite the fact that he was 37 and was beginning to slow down. Robinson didn't disappoint Pirate manger Chuck Tanner and played another solid season for the Pirates.
The end of Robinson's career began in the spring of 1981 when he underwent surgery for the repair of his right Achilles tendon. Bill never regained his quick bat and posted the lowest average of his National League career. After 31 games with the Pirates, Robinson returned to Philadelphia for the remainder of the 1982 season. At the end of the season, Robinson, approaching his 40th birthday, filed for free agency. He was resigned by the Phillies and played only in ten games before being released on June 9, 1983, seventeen days after his final game on May 23, 1983. The Phillies respected Robinson's knowledge of him and retained him as a minor league hitting instructor.
In his sixteen seasons in the major leagues, Robinson had 1127 hits, 166 home runs and drove in 641 runs. He hit 104 round trippers in the minors along with 514 runs batted in. His career batting average of .258 in 1472 games was not a true reflection of his outstanding career in the 1970s when he was a better than average hitter.
At the end of the '83 season, Robinson was wooed by the Mets as their new batting coach. With the likes of Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez and George Foster in the Met's lineup, Robinson wasn't about to begin making changes in his slugger's swings. "I don't have any complicated ideas about hitting,"Robinson said. "Mine is a very simple approach, mostly mental," said Robinson, who was manager Dave Johnson's first choice because of his ability as a teacher of hitting.
Facing the brink of elimination in the 6th game of the 1986 World Series, the Mets rallied and took advantage of one of the greatest blunders in World Series history to send the series into the seventh and deciding game, which the Mets won. Robinson had once again returned to the top of his form, this time as the man who taught the world champions the art of hitting. Robinson remained with the Mets until the end of the 1989 season when the team made wholesale changes in their coaching staff.
In 1990, the producers of Baseball Tonight hired Robinson for his insightful commentary on major league baseball. After a two-year stint with ESPN, Robinson returned full time to baseball. Robinson worked for the Phillies minor league organization as a manager and coach from 1994 though 1999. Bill returned to the Yankees organization as a minor league hitting instructor for its Columbus team from 1999 to 2001. He accepted the offer of the Florida Marlins to serve as their hitting coach for the 2002 season.
Once again in 2003, Robinson's pupils, the surprising Florida Marlins, shocked the baseball world by capturing the World Series title, earning Robinson his third and final World Series ring. After four seasons with the Marlins, Robinson was hired as the hitting instructor for the Dodger's minor league system.
On July 29, 2007, Robinson failed to show up for an appointment in Las Vegas to discuss hitting. He had complained about his heart after throwing batting practice and went back to his hotel room to rest. A friend found him dead. Apparently his heart simply gave out. His Bible was lying open in front of him.
Jeff Wilpon, the CEO of the Mets described Robinson as "a devoted family man, a consummate professional and one of the classiest men in our sport." "Bill was a wonderful family man and a great player, manager and coach. He was a friend to everyone he met," said Dodger general manager Ned Colletti.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
SOARING TO NEW HEIGHTS
Some 85 to 90 years ago, three young Laurens County boys played in the cotton fields and stared into the sky as their parents and the older members of their families picked cotton and other crops from the field.
Hardly any of them had ever seen an airplane in their young and isolated lives. In the next two decades, each of them would not only learn what an airplane was, they would learn to fly some of the fastest airplanes in the U.S. Air Force.
Each of these three men took separate career paths. One flew bomber planes, another fighter planes, and the last one flew jet planes higher and faster than few people had eve flown before.
On Veteran’s Day, the State of Georgia will honor these three men by naming the intersection of U.S. Highway 80 West and the U.S. Highway 441 By-pass as the Herndon Cummings, Marion Rodgers, John Whitehead Tuskegee Airmen Interchange.
The legislation was sponsored by Representatives Matt Hatchett, Bubber Epps and Jimmy Pruett at the request of Laurens County Commissioner, Buddy Adams, who has been the driving force in honoring veterans in Laurens County since his election to office in 2008. Adams proposed legislation to name the two legs of the by-pass for Lt. Kelso Horne, the cover man of Life magazine’s first D-Day issue and Lt. Col. Clyde Stinson, who was awarded two Silver Stars for heroism and was one of the highest ranking officers killed in actual combat in Vietnam.
Of the estimated one thousand men who bore the title of a “Tuskegee Airmen,” three of these remarkable aviators can call Laurens County, Georgia home.
One, Major Herndon Cummings, was a native of Laurens County, while two others, Col. John Whitehead and Col. Marion Rodgers spent portions of their childhood living in Laurens County. The legacy of these three men lived well beyond their years as a separate unit of the United States Army Air Force. Laurens County’s three Tuskegee Airmen went on to remarkable achievements in aviation for decades beyond their service during World War II.
Herndon Cummings was born on April 25, 1919 in the Burgamy District of Laurens County, Georgia. The son of Joseph and Mollie Hill Cummings, Don’s interest in aviation was sparked on Christmas Day in 1928 when his father gave him a toy German zeppelin. His interest in flying was forever sealed in 1936 when Don and his brother took a five-dollar ride in a Ford Tri-Motor plane. As the plane soared in the skies west of Dublin, Don underwent a life-altering experience. "By the time the plane landed, I knew what I wanted to do," he recalled.
Cummings enlisted in the Air Corps on June 25, 1942. He trained in the B-25 bomber at Tuskegee and later at Lockbourne Air Force Base in Columbus, Ohio, where he would later make his home. Of the nine hundred to a thousand men who successfully completed their training at Tuskegee, most trained as fighter pilots in the P-51 fighter and other fighters.
Lt. Cummings was assigned to the 477th Bomber Group, which was based at Selfridge Army Air Field, Michigan in 1944. Many of the members of the group were commanded by white officers, who according to some, favored white officers over the black officers. Concerns over racial troubles in Detroit forced the group to move to Godman Field near Fort Knox, Kentucky. By March 1945, the 477th was uprooted again and moved to Freemen Army Field at Seymour, Indiana.
The field at Freeman maintained two clubs, one for supervisors and one for trainees, but were defacto separated between blacks and whites. In the early days of April 1945, the relationships between the commanding officers and the black pilots began to deteriorate rapidly. On April 9, 1945, the day of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, more than 100 of the airmen were arrested and placed in jail for twelve days until they were released by order of new President, Harry S. Truman.
Just weeks after they were freed, Lt. Cummings was promoted to captain to command a bomber. After completing his four-year stint in the Army Air Corps, Cummings served in the Air Force Reserve and attained the rank of major before retiring after twenty years of service.
Cummings earned a commercial pilot's license, but never utilized it because there were virtually no opportunities for employment of black pilots. He went to work laying bricks in order to support his family and send his two daughters to college.
In one of his last official reunions with his fellow Tuskegee airmen, Major Cummings was invited to sit on the stage during the inauguration of President Barack Obama. He died some six months later on July 2, 2009.
Marion Rodgers was born in Detroit, Michigan on September 23, 1921 and raised to about age eight in Dublin, Georgia until his family moved to New York. Rodgers grew interested in aviation when a man in the neighborhoold began to restore a damaged bi-plane. From that point forward, Rodgers would spend his free time going to airports watching plans take off and land.
Not immediately accepted into flight school at Tuskegee, Alabama, Rodgers was first assigned to an anti-aircraft artillery unit and the served a short term as a radio operator. Eventually, Marion was accepted into flight school at Keesler Field. In May 1943, I'm sent to Pre-Flight Training at Tuskegee Army Air Field.
Rodgers trained at Moten Field before returning to Tuskegee where he flew the Vultee BT-131 for the requisite 80 flight hours. Promoted to the much more powerful AT-6, Marion earned his 2nd Lieutenant wings.
After flying the P-40, P-39 and P-47, Marion was assigned to the 99th Fighter Squadron, the famous unit eternally known as the “Red Tails.” In 69 combat missions Lt. Rodgers flew 370 hours as am escort for B-17s and B-24s.
After the war, Rodgers was eventually promoted to command the 99th Fighter Squadron “The Red Tails” at Lockbourne Air Base. In 1948, the Air Force was integrated under orders from President Harry S. Truman. Col. Rodgers, a twenty-two-year veteran of the Air Force and a 17-year Civil Service worker, spent one year working for N.A.S.A. as a program manager on the mission of Apollo 13. In technical circles, Rodgers was prominent in the development of electronics and communications procedures with N.O.R.A.D..
After his retirement in 1983, Rodgers became known for his exceedingly kind contributions of his time to public organizations in his home town. He also attended as many events honoring the Tuskegee Airmen whenever and wherever he could. In his spare time, Rodgers spent many fun times with his wife Suzanne and engaging in his favorite hobby as an amateur radio operator.
Just a few weeks ago, Rodgers, 93 years old, was treated to one more flight in a P-51 over Camarillo, California. The flight in the fighter plane which turned the tide of the air war in Europe came nearly seventy years after his first flight.
Col. John Whitehead, known to his fellow pilots as “Mr. Death,” was born in Lawrenceville, Virginia in 1924. Like Col. Rodgers, Whitehead spent several of the years of his youth in Laurens County. Lt. Whitehead flew several missions over Europe in World War II.
Col. Whitehead was the Air Force’s first African-American test pilot. Many of his hours in the air came while he was a pilot instructor for the Air Force in the 1950s. A former President of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., Whitehead was given his nickname, not because he cheated death on many times, but because of his gaunt looking face, supposedly resembling that of a skull.
In his 30-year career, Col. Whitehead spent more than 9,500 hours in the air, with some 5000 of them coming in jet aircraft. In January 1951, Whitehead was featured on the cover of Ebony magazine.
After serving as a pilot in Vietnam and retiring from the military, Whitehead served as an instructor and Air Force Liaison at Boeing and Northrop Aircraft.
Whitehead was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak leaf clusters, the Air Medal with seven oak leaf clusters and numerous other citations and medals. He was a man of firsts, the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Air Force Experimental Test Pilots School, the first African American to fly the B-47 bomber and the first African American to serve as an instructor of jet pilots.
Monday, June 30, 2014
Today, Jeralean Kurtz Talley turns 115 years old. Mrs. Talley, a native of Montrose, Georgia, holds on to her official title as the oldest living person in the United States and the oldest living person outside the country of Japan.
Mrs. Talley was born on May 23, 1899 to Samuel James Kurtz and Amelia Kurtz. William McKinley was President of the United States. On May 23, 2014, some nineteen presidents, fourteen hundred plus full moons and 41,725 sunsets later, Ms. Jeralean reaches yet another milestone in the time line of her longest life.
Jeralean, who was among a dozen children of Samuel and Amelia Jones Kurtz, grew up in the outskirts of Montrose, Georgia in western Laurens County, Georgia. Her grandfather, Andrew J. Kurtz, husband of Rachel Kurtz, was most likely a slave owned by Dr. William J. Kurtz, who owned nearly two dozen slaves during the Civil War.
Jeralean and her family moved to Inkster, Wayne County, Michigan during a vast migration of African-American farm workers who left Laurens County in the 1920s for Detroit, Michigan. That group includes the family of world champion boxer, Sugar Ray Robinson and Ford Motor Company inventor and innovator, Claude Harvard.
Jeralean married Alfred Talley, who died in the 1980s. Although she was from large family, Jeralean had only one child, a daughter, Thelma Holloway, who is now seventy-five years old. She has three grandchildren, ten great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren.
As for Talley, she credits her God for her longevity. When asked by Congressman John Conyers as to what her secret to a long life was, she pointed upward and said, "The good Lord up above. If it wasn't for Him, none of us would be here."
Talley was almost 107 before she moved out of her home and into her daughter's home. She gave up bowling when she was a mere 104. And, she scored a very respectable 200 in her last game.
With 115 years behind her Jeralean has many stories to tell. One of her favorites is the tale of her first and only attempt to drive a car.
"I tried that one time," in her 30s, she said.
"I didn't hit the right one to make it go forward and it went backwards," Talley told Elisha Anderson of The Detroit Free Press.
When her husband Alfred yelled at her, she opened the door and got out of the car and never drove again.
A verified supercentenarian is a person who is at least 110 years old and whose age is documented by at three or more reliable documents as determined by an international body - the most respected organization being the Gerontology Research Group.
The world's oldest verified person ever was a French woman Jeanne Calment, who died at the age of 122 years, 164 days. Today, the oldest living person is a Japanese woman, Misao Okawa, who is 14 and one half months older than Talley. As of today, Jeralean Talley stands as the 31st oldest verified living person since 1955 and is poised to move into 25th place within nine weeks. If Talley lives until July 18 of next year, she will be the 10th oldest verified person since 1955. Verification before 1955 was often difficult because of unreliable or non-existent birth records. .
Happy Birthday Ms. Jeralean!