Black general fulfilled dream

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- The Gulf Coast has been a big contributor to America’s air dominance for more than 60 years. It was also the place the first black four-star general called home.

Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Jr., former commander in chief of North American Air Defense Command and Air Force Aerospace Defense Command, joined the Army Air Force at a time when blacks were only allowed to work as laborers and cooks.

At his childhood home near Pensacola Naval Air Station, Fla., James often dreamed of flying for the Navy, but at the time none of the military branches allowed blacks to become pilots.

He often told the story of when he was a young man, a naval officer ordered him to move to the back of the bus so he could sit down.

James later said in a speech at Morehouse College in Atlanta that he did as he was told, but said he felt ashamed of himself and vowed to never let anyone or anything stand in his way again.

After completing college at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, he became a civilian instructor with the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program. When the Army considered training blacks as pilots, James resigned his post and entered the program as a student.

He later graduated first in his class and received a commission as a second lieutenant.
He next completed fighter pilot combat training at Selfridge Field, Mich., and was assigned to various units in the United States for the next six years.

While the Air Force was considered “integrated,” black pilots were not accepted socially or provided with equal opportunities or facilities. James became actively involved in several protests to provide equal treatment for blacks in the military.

James’ career spanned the beginning and end of an era. The era opened with the establishment of the Army Air Force flying school for blacks at Tuskegee - a crack in the discrimination barrier, but not segregation.

It ended with his promotion to the highest military rank and high-level assignments. It proved that no position in the armed forces or society is closed to any person of outstanding ability and determination.