Celebrate the DVD release of the triumphant film Red Tails, about the Tuskegee Airmen, by entering for your chance to win a copy of your own.
I grew up in a Black Baptist church in Long Island, New York, which means that my entire childhood was filled with “aunties” and “uncles” who were living up North but rooted in the South. The way they spoke, the way they ate, the way they loved and worshipped—each of these things was a part of a proud Southern tradition that they couldn’t help but to share. It was in their blood. Our blood. And worthy of celebration.
Nothing was more true than the way my church family spoke of the Tuskegee Airmen. I can’t remember specifics—I was so young. But I do remember hearing talk of one of my childhood pastors, Rev. Charles Smallwood, having been involved with the program of elite African American pilots who carried out combat missions in World War II. I remember, too, how everyone’s voice sounded so prideful whenever the words “Tuskegee” and “Airmen” found themselves in the same sentence or made their way into one of our Black History Month speeches and lessons. Particulars were not easy to come by—no one stood in front of the church and spoke of the blatant racism the Tuskegee Airmen endured, or how they faced down the enemy even as their own countrymen denied them the most basic of human rights here in America. Older black folk can be like that sometime—will hold back the details. Out of fear. Shame. Forgetfulness. Pride. Protection.
These are the things that came rushing back to me recently when I had the honor of interviewing Dr. Roscoe Brown, former squadron commander of the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group. Our talk was part of a celebration of the recent DVD release of Red Tails, the George Lucas epic that brought the Tuskegee Airmen’s story to life on the big screen. I made a point of telling Dr. Brown that while I do remember hearing about the Red Tails when I was a kid, I’m disappointed now as a grown-up that, until now, only small pieces of their story have made it into the collective memory of our country in general and our people in particular. Dr. Brown, a longtime educator who served as president of Bronx Community College, said their stories have been faint until now because the men who could tell them—the Tuskegee Airmen—were busy getting down to the business of changing the world.
Most veterans didn’t talk about it. When we came back, I was 23 years old. I went to graduate school, got my PhD, and by age 29, I was working hard on my career. We were building. Many of us became well known in our fields, men of distinction. Percy Sutton was an intelligence officer, and went on to found Inner City Broadcasting. Coleman Young was the first black mayor of Detroit. We were building our careers and since we were really dedicated to ending racism, we were doing it by action.
The veterans did eventually turn their focus to building a legacy around their wartime accomplishment; they founded Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., an organization that meets yearly to honor their accomplishments and keep their stories and legacies alive. With 50 chapters all over the country, the Tuskegee Airmen award about $1 million in annual scholarships to young kids of color who want to be pilots. The organization also runs the Young Eagles program, in which pilots from the airlines and military rent planes and teach kids the rudiments of aviation, plus run a week-long flying camp in Chicago during the summer. “We,” Dr. Brown assured, “are doing our share to tell the story. This is not just about entertainment. We want kids to understand that African Americans can be outstanding in anything. This is about the pursuit of excellence.”
I saw Red Tails with my daughter Mari’s 7th grade class, and I have to say, it was pretty amazing to sit and watch the kids’ reaction to the story of the Tuskegee Airmen. The truths are evident and were not lost on the students: racism was real and hard in the 40s; black men of character rose with distinction despite it; and brilliance, morals, character and honor are all characteristics that were—and are—important to African Americans.
I’m disappointed in myself that I didn’t take the time to really get to know the story of the Tuskegee Airmen when I was apparently so close to a few of them growing up. But I’m happy that my daughters are getting a primer in an important part of black American history—American history—through Red Tails. And now, I’m extending that honor to you and your children by offering five (5) Red Tails DVDs for giveaway right here on MyBrownBaby. The DVD is amazing in that it includes not only the movie, but footage from the era, plus interviews and commentary from surviving Tuskegee Airmen. Fascinating stuff for your whole family!
I’m keeping this giveaway simple: Simply “like” this post on Facebook for your chance to your own DVD copy of Red Tails (be sure to do it through the Rafflecopter contest widget below this post). Earn an extra entry by tweeting the post (again—do this through Rafflecopter to have your entry counted). I’ll announce winners the week of June 3, 2012. Good luck!