Tuskegee Airman recounts experiences at Jamaica Library

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When Cambria Heights resident Doris Bodine talks about her father, former Tuskegee Airman Roscoe C. Brown Jr., her eyes light up.

She can speak at length about her father’s accomplishments, of which there are many, including being one of the country’s first black pilots and the former president of Bronx Community College. She can detail how hard, and long, he has fought against racism — a battle he continues, at age 87, as the director of the Center for Urban Education Policy at CUNY, which deals with equality in schools.

“He has done so much,” said Bodine, a member of the Cambria Heights Civic Association. “It’s really incredible.”

Bodine is not the only one who admires her father. More than 100 people crowded into a room in Jamaica’s Central Library Saturday afternoon to hear Brown speak about his days as a Tuskegee Airman in the U.S. Air Force.

“We broke barriers and changed stereotypes,” said Brown, a Riverdale resident who once lived in Hollis. “There were groups that helped make it possible for us to live the American dream, and the Tuskegee Airmen was one of those groups.”

The Tuskegee Airmen, or the 332nd Fighter Group, was an all−black pilot organization in the military. Prior to the Tuskegee Airmen, formed in 1941, no U.S. pilots had been black.

Becoming a pilot in 1944, Brown went on to command the Tuskegee Airmen’s 100th Fighter Squadron, flew 68 combat missions, and was “shot at in every European capital except London and Paris.”

“The Tuskegee Airmen were so successful that white pilots knew who we were and wanted our support,” said Brown, who currently hosts the CUNY television series “African−­American Legends.”

Brown is so well−known for his achievements during World War II that George Lucas, creator of the “Star Wars” movies, spoke to him in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago about his upcoming film on the Tuskegee Airmen.

Brown, who travels across the country to give lectures on the Tuskegee Airmen, said the country’s first group of black pilots helped to lay the framework for people like Martin Luther King Jr. and the election of President Barack Obama.

“The Tuskegee Airmen are some of the shoulders that Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X stood on to carry out the fight for equality,” Brown said of the civil rights activists.

Flushing resident Jeannine Narcisse said Brown began a dialogue for her that she does not want to let die.

“His talk was an eye−opener, and I want to talk about his accomplishments and the Tuskegee Airmen to everyone I know,” Narcisse said. “I will go and talk about it with my friends at home, at dinner.”

Leroy Gadsden, president of the Jamaica branch of the NAACP, spoke at Saturday’s event about the history of his organization, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. The NAACP was the group that originally campaigned for blacks to be allowed to fly.

“From the Revolutionary War to the present war, we have always fought for this country, a country that did not always appreciate us,” Gadsden said.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.

Updated 6:35 pm, October 10, 2011
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