Tag Archives: Tuskegee Airmen

Astoria church celebrates Flag Day by honoring Tuskegee Airmen

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre

The Immaculate Conception Knights of Columbus Council hosted its annual Flag Day ceremony Friday with a special event that taught students about the country’s banner and celebrated Tuskegee Airmen.

Three members of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American military aviation unit in U.S. history that battled against the Nazis during World War II, were honored during the ceremony in Astoria’s Immaculate Conception Church along with other military members in front of a crowd of students from the church’s school.

The event was seen as a more effective way to teach youngsters about major points in United States history.

“It brought history to life,” said Eileen Harnischfeger, principal of the school. “It’s so far removed from them. My father was in World War II so it was very real to me. This brings history to life for them. It’s a wonderful way to learn history.”

The ceremony began with a flag raising tribute in the courtyard of The Holy Union Convent, and then moved to the lower level of Immaculate Conception Church for the award presentations and speeches.

First-graders from the school made custom U.S. flags keeping in tune with the holiday, which falls on Sunday, and sixth-grade students researched the Tuskegee Airmen.

Organizers hoped the lessons from the event would help the students better understand what it means to be American.

“We’re a predominately Caucasian school,” Harnischfeger said. “The children come from many different backgrounds but we don’t have many African-Americans. I think it’s important to know about discrimination and what we fought for in this country.”


Former bodyguard for Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma greets southeast Queens students

| slicata@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Salvatore Licata

He walked through the streets of Selma, Ala., with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to spread a message of equality and love. And on Thursday, Dabney Montgomery, 92, spread that same message to some young minds in Queens.

“The future looks bright,” Montgomery said to a sea of children at Merrick Academy. “Because you stand up straight, you are thinking positive and you are choosing people like Martin Luther King as your hero.”

Montgomery was born in Alabama in 1923. He was one of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American military aviation unit in U.S. history, assigned to go into battle against the Nazis during World War II. He said his fight overseas was no different than his fight at home.

He walked with civil rights activists through Selma, Ala., in 1965 during the historic march to Montgomery, Ala., as a bodyguard for King. Montgomery pledged his life to keeping King safe so that he could spread the message of justice and equality for all people in the future.

The 50-mile trek from March 21 to 25 was the third effort to try to reach the Alabama state capital, after two previous attempts were met by state troopers and county sheriff’s deputies, who attacked the marchers with batons and dogs.

Today, the events at Selma have come to the forefront again with the release of a new movie about the march, amid demonstrations across the nation over charges that blacks continue to be the target of police abuse.

Montgomery explained that walking through the streets during the march from Selma made him “tired but happy,” and that he was overjoyed with love from others in the experience that he will never forget.

Montgomery started off his speech by speaking about a 1918 U.S. military document he held up before his audience. He explained to the children that back then, people of color were considered too inept to fly a warplane. He then gave a powerful message about how fighting for your rights for equality and having a “can-do” mentality can go a long way.

“We fought, in spite of the study, in spite of the reign of fire and in spite of all the negative statements said about us,” he told the crowd. “We stood together and we shouted, ‘We will fight! We will fight!’”


In his closing remarks, Montgomery reminded the children to always believe in themselves and that there is a great reward for those who live positively.

“Love one another as brothers and sisters. Fight for the right of men,” he said. “When you are right, don’t compromise.”



Council approves Jamaica street renaming for Tuskegee Airmen

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Councilmember Ruben Wills

The City Council voted last week to memorialize the Tuskegee Airmen with a Jamaica street sign for their remarkable bravery during World War II.

A bill to permanently change the name of South Road between Merrick Boulevard and Remington Street to Tuskegee Airmen Way passed the Council unanimously on November 14.

Original crew members Dabney Montgomery and Wilfred Defour attended the stated Council meeting to show their support for the renaming.

“There are so many young people who don’t know the difficulties that their elders had to go through for them to be where they are today,” Montgomery said.

The airmen were the first black military aviators in the United States Armed Forces and fought against Nazi Germany.

“The Tuskegee Airmen have played an extraordinary part in America’s history and the civil rights movement,” said Councilmember Leroy Comrie. “By renaming part of South Road Tuskegee Airmen Way, we are helping to ensure future generations of Americans will remember their dedication, and look to them as examples of heroism in the face of extraordinary obstacles.”

After returning home, “they established themselves by becoming entrepreneurs, giving back to their communities and breaking down racial barriers,” Comrie said.

The airmen’s legacy will also be memorialized at CUNY York College. Currently, plans are underway for a tribute, such as a museum, on the campus along the new Tuskegee Airmen Way.

Of the 944 pilots, 80 were from New York and six of them were from Jamaica.

“This is the way you gain power, by proving that you can do the positive thing that others are doing,” Montgomery said.

The bill, introduced by Councilmember Ruben Wills, now awaits the mayor’s signature.




Pol wants to rename Jamaica street in honor of Tuskegee Airmen

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the Office of Councilmember Ruben Wills

The Tuskegee Airmen broke the race barrier as they flew through the skies and fought the enemy during World War II. Now, one southeast pol wants to honor them at home.

The “Tuskegee Experiment” was developed in the 1940s by the Department of War to assess whether black men could function under pressure and operate and maintain combat aircraft.

“We not only fought, we won,” said original Airman Dabney Montgomery.

On October 3, the City Council’s Parks Committee held a hearing on renaming South Road in Jamaica to “Tuskegee Airmen Way.”

“Etching their name in the permanent fabric of our city through the renaming of this street is a fitting tribute to the sacrifices they have made to protect our liberties and integrate the United States Armed Forces,” said Councilmember Ruben Wills.

Montgomery said he hopes the renaming could educate youngsters about what “their elders had to go through for them to be where they are today” and be able to see the name of “real heroes” in their community.

Mongomery, 90, worked in the airmen group’s ground crew from 1943 to 1945. He explained each pilot during the war had over a dozen people working to get them safely up in the air.

“It was the people on the ground level, people on the mountain base [and] people on the mountain top doing the job for the whole world,” he said. “Everybody is important. This is what we are saying.”

The Parks Committee hearing also allowed for testimony from children of deceased Tuskegee Airmen who settled in Jamaica. A written statement of support for the street renaming from Commissioner Terrence Holliday from Mayor’s Office of Veteran Services was also provided.

“They said we couldn’t fly a plane. We proved them wrong,” Montgomery said. “Young people should be aware of what we have done.”

The renaming proposal will now be voted on by the Parks Committee and then the City Council.

If it passes in City Council, it will be submitted to the mayor to sign and the name change will be effective immediately. There is no specific time frame.