It is rare that one encounters a living American Hero whose wealth of knowledge and history surpasses generations, racial barriers and continues as a force of positive guidance to young people. I had the amazing opportunity to interview Dr. Roscoe Brown, a LEGEND.
After graduating from Springfield College in 1943, Dr. Brown joined the Air Force, where he served as one of the Tuskegee Airmen. During World War II, he served as a Squadron Commander of the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group. He flew 68 long-range missions from August of 1944 to March of 1945. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service.
After the Air Force, Dr. Brown attended New York University, where he earned an M.A. in 1949 and a Ph.D. in 1951. In 1950 he became the director of the Institute of Afro-American Affairs and a professor of education at New York University, where he remained for the next twenty-seven years. From 1977 to 1993, Dr. Brown held the position of President of Bronx Community College, a part of the City University of New York (CUNY). Dr. Brown currently hosts a television program, African-American Legends, and he won the 1973 Emmy-award for Distinguished Program with his weekly series Black Arts.
Dr. Brown is involved in a number of organizations, including more than thirty years of service to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. He is also a member, and past President of the 100 Black Men of America New York Chapter. He has published numerous articles and contributed to several books, and has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the New York City Treasure Centennial Honor from the Museum of the City of New York and the Humanitarian Award from the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
Dr. Brown shared a bit of history with me during our recent conversation.
Shootie Girl: We all know there was racial tension and segregation during the time that you served in the Air Force. How did this affect your morale and that of your fellow soldiers?
Dr. Brown: People who are alive today don’t realize segregation was a fact of life. Having no legal rights emboldened us to do better. In our communities we had our own theaters, restaurants, newspapers, heroes, she-roes, we lived in our own communities. Our objective was to be fully free, get academic and intellectual skills that would allow us to do whatever we wanted to do.we can do. Tuskegee was so important during that time. We proved the opposition wrong. Aviation was only 35 years old at that time. We wanted to be the best. It gave us an opportunity to show that we could do well.
Shootie Girl: How did your time in the military benefit you in your career?
Dr. Brown: Our generation searched for excellence. I was Valedictorian of my high school and Captain of my Cadet Corps. My father, who was a dentist, was a huge influence in my life. I was accustomed to being around achievers like lawyers and professors. I eventually became a public health educator. I knew many black achievers. Aviation gave me the opportunity to serve my country. Over 1.5 million men mostly worked in service. I wanted to be in combat rather than service. But there were only 1000 pilots in 332 fighter groups. Knowing that Black people would be proud; that’s what kept him going. Whites needed to realize that segregation was wrong. The 1948 Executive Order #9981 eliminated segregation in the military. That helped to open the door. In 1964, segregation ended.
Shootie Girl: Did you feel you had something to prove during those times?
Dr. Brown: Only to prove to myself as a black professional. My only competition was to be the best I could be.
Shootie Girl: What are you most proud of accomplishing your life?
Dr. Brown: Working in education. I am a psychologist and work in psychometrics and with state assessments. I am proud of my work with advocacy in education.
Shootie Girl: What lessons do you think today’s youth can learn from your struggles?
Dr. Brown: The movie shows that you can’t internalize inferiority. People want to instill in you what they believe. But you need to believe in yourself and strive for excellence. Overcome prejudice and obstacles. Don’t just wish, work for it. Don’t let others deter you. No stereotype should be a threat. If you believe you can excel, you’ll act that way.
Shootie Girl: You are an inspiration to many. Who has inspired you?
Dr. Brown: My father was a big inspiration. Also Paul Roberson. He wan an athlete, a scholar, a singer, actor and an orator from Rutgers University. He believed excellence would overcome prejudice.
Shootie Girl: Did you feel the Red Tails movie was an accurate depiction of your experience?
Dr. Brown: In general it was. The were some embellishments. The language was not as we would have spoken. I served as a consultant during the making of the movie. George Lucas did a great job with a complex story, putting it into a 2 hour movie. The end is very exciting!
Shootie Girl: Would you change anything about your past experiences?
Dr. Brown: There is nothing I would change about my experience. But I tried some daring things in the air. I am most proud of my 4 children who are all professionals. I have 6 grand children and 4 great-grands. Two of them are Lieutenants in the military.
WIN a Red Tails DVD (Rated PG-13) starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Terrance Howard
June 4 – June 18, 2012
We are excited to give away 3 DVD’s of the JUST RELEASED Red Tails Movie. It’s simple to enter. See instructions below.