The Un-Sung Hero

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By The Staff

Since 1926, February has been deemed Black History Month. In this month, the world celebrates the lives, inventions, and accomplishments of black people. If I may be honest, it is a shame that it took the world so long to realize that people of color had brains and talent that exceeded dancing, singing and dunking a basketball. Then I feel cheated because when I was a young girl in grade school, the only black person that I remember seeing in a textbook was George Washington Carver and yes, it made me proud to know that a black man had something to do with peanut butter.

It was a man by the name of Carter G. Woodson who founded "Negro Week" back in 1926, and chose the second week of February because it marked the birthdays of two Americans who influenced the lives and social conditions of African Americans: former President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglas.

It was not until I moved to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1984 that I found out there were actually black pilots called the Tuskegee Airmen who were part of an experiment back in 1941. These men were bomber pilot escorts. I have been honored to make the acquaintance of one of the few originals still alive.

The story of how this came to be started when I was cleaning house one day and needed some newspaper to clean windows. I hadn't read this particular paper and had not seen the article about these black pilots. When I separated a section of the paper there they were - a group of black men in uniforms dating back to 1945. They caught my eye and I stopped to see if they were performing somewhere in Cincinnati when much to my surprise they were the Tuskegee Airmen. Well, a few years later I was working in a doctor's office when this distinguished black gentlemen came in for an appointment. By the way he carried himself you could not dismiss that there was something different about him. At the end of his exam the doctor brought him back to my desk to schedule some additional tests and he said, "Ruth did you know Mr. Lear is one of the original Tuskegee Airmen?" Well, if it had not been for the article that I was about to use to clean my windows, I would not have even known what a Tuskegee airman was. We shook hands and, of course, my curiosity would not let it end there. I began to question him and soon he was telling me about the conditions of the day and time he served.

He told me a story of how in June 1945, he and three other black officers were recuperating at Kennedy Army Hospital located in Memphis, Tenn. The officers had made friends while at the hospital with a black pharmacist in Memphis. The pharmacist enjoyed entertaining colored servicemen, especially officers, in his home and had invited the officers to join him for dinner. Mr. Lear and the other officers rode on an afternoon bus downtown. Now, the Army required convalescing patients to wear their dress uniforms outside the hospital grounds. Also, remember at this time Memphis bus lines were segregated. 

When the officers got off to change buses downtown a very drunk foul-talking white man confronted them. He said, "Look at these niggers, and nigger officers. Two of 'em got wings on, I've killed a lot of niggers, but I've never killed any nigger officers." A police car pulled up and a white policeman got out wanting to know what was going on. The drunk told him, "nothing," and repeated the previous statement. The policeman got back into the squad car and drove away. Leaving the injured officers with the hostile crowd. Mr. Lear recalled that, after fighting overseas and surviving, he was about to be lynched in downtown Memphis by an American drunk while a crowd stood by and watched. Suddenly, a white sailor pushed through the crowd, wanting to know what was going on. The drunk repeated himself. The sailor asked, "What did they do?" The drunk said, "Nothing, I just don't like 'em." The sailor said, "I don't like 'em either, but if they don't bother me, I don't bother them." The sailor asked Mr. Lear where they were going when their bus pulled up. The sailor eased them through the crowd and onto the bus. This account was told to me directly by Mr. John Lear; however, you can read it for yourselves in the book, "Black and White Airmen, Their true history" written by John Fleischman.

Just as I didn't know of the Tuskegee Airmen, there are millions of slaves and African Americans whose stories never made it past a lynch man noose, a secluded ditch, the lonely depths of some muddy river, whose DNA lies on the shark infested ocean floor or the lower deck of a slave ship. Names we will never know.

I think about the tomb of the "Unknown Soldier," how it is a symbol of those unidentified soldiers and sometimes the stone is inscribed, "known but to God." This tomb was constructed to pay tribute to those who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of our nation while enlisted in one of our military branches.

In February, we should stop and pay homage to the unknown, un-sung slaves who are truly heroes. We should never forget that all in all, at the end of the day when all is said and done, black history "is" American history. Period.

Down through the generations the question has been asked: Why would the black race worship and praise a God who would allow such an injustice? Why would we continue to pray, sing and worship a just God who allowed slavery and everything surrounding it to take place? The answer is simple. We love Him and we honor Him. He was hated, He was beaten, and He was spit on and nailed to a tree. If our Savior had to suffer this, then who are we? We have no second thoughts about who He is. We believe He is the Prince of Peace, the Almighty God and He never makes a mistake.

Editor's note: Ruth Ann Fogle is a Lebanon native, published author and actress.