Tuskegee Airman Educates Farmers


Steve Harvey, a Tuskegee airman, speaks to students in library. Photo by Lily Fraser

Rachel Vigil , Editor-in-Chief

By Rachel Vigil

On Nov. 18 the Farm had a plethora of special visitors. Not the least of whom was Tuskegee Airman Colonel James Harvey, who spoke to a group of captivated students in the library about his experiences in the group of all the African-American military pilots during his military service.

The Tuskegee Airmen, or 332nd Fighter Group and the 447th Bombardment Group, were a group of black pilots during World War Ⅱ and the Korean War. Harvey joined them from a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania where he lived what he called a “sheltered life.” There was no prejudice in his hometown, and he was unaware of the segregation present in other areas of the country. After he was drafted, Harvey soon experienced it.

“I got to Washington, D.C. and was taken out of the car I was in and out in the car where Negroes rode. Welcome to the South, welcome to segregation,” he said of his journey to training camp.

He avoided problems of racism and segregation in town by staying on the base during his training. The army however, also provided countless obstacles to the Tuskegees in training.

“Washing out” is the term used to describe cadets who are unable to complete their training in the military. During World War Ⅱ, the washout rate for white pilots was 63%. In contrast, the first class out of Tuskegee had a washout rate of 40%. The white cadets who washed out of flight training were sent on to multi-engine, and if they washed out there, they were made staff sergeants. If the Tuskegees washed out, they were made buck privates, a much lower position with fewer opportunities.

When addressing why the airmen were so good, Harvey said, “Everything we did had to be perfect… Each one of us wanted to be the best, so with all those bests together, you got quite an organization; that’s why we were so good. However, there was only one best,” Harvey then pointed to himself as laughter rose up in the audience. Throughout the entire discussion, Harvey had a sharp sense of humor.
When the talk turned to how he was affected by racism in the Air Force, Harvey was unfazed. He never let it get to him. “The way I saw it, I didn’t have the problem. They were the ones with the problem,” he said.

The talk succeeded in educating Wheat Ridge students about the often complicated history of our country and its inhabitants. While racism was rampant in our nation, Harvey, the Tuskegee Airmen, and other brave men and women fought against it. The end of his talk captured this attitude the best.

After listing off inventions ranging from the printing press to the elevator that African-Americans invented, Harvey said, “There are 473 more inventions that affect our daily lives today. All these inventions were made by Negroes between 1834 and 1960; 98% of these inventions being made before 1900.” He then paused, “What does that tell you about the Army report I read to you earlier [referencing a report about the inferiority of African Americans made by the U.S. military]. That wasn’t a complete report, that wasn’t an accurate report.” Harvey and his fellow airmen also disproved that report throughout their lives.