Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

The First Black in the Navy's Clear Blue Yonder

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

The First Black in the Navy's Clear Blue Yonder

Article excerpt

At least once a year, particularly during Black History Month, Americans pause to recognize African Americans and their contribution to our nation. This pause is important, especially since many of the achievements of Blacks and other people of color are missing from classroom history books.

Theodore Taylor's biography, The Flight of Jesse Leroy Brown, is a brilliant account of the courageous acts and deeds of America's first Black Navy aviator. Taylor strikes a delicate balance between recounting Brown's achievements and evoking anger, rage, and pride as he traces a life that leads from poverty in Palmer's Crossing, Miss., to his "wings of gold" as a Navy aviator.

Brown's journey, in many ways, reminded me of the old Negro spiritual by F.C. Barnes, "Coming Up the Rough Side of the Mountain." Jesse Leroy Brown knew this mountain. He also knew that the nation was watching and that his achievements would open the doors for hundreds of African Americans. Taylor's vivid description of Brown's encounters help the reader feel the stresses, the pressures, and the joys as his life moved from the back seat of buses to the cockpit of Navy aircraft during the Korean War.

Brown's fascination with airplanes, we learn, started at a very early age probably before his dream of flying would be shattered by the racial barriers of his time. He was in high school at about the same time Blacks were being trained as army pilots at Tuskegee Institute. But Brown wanted something different. He wanted to be a Navy aviator, landing and taking off on aircraft carriers at sea.

Taylor captures your full attention by starting the story with Brown's plane crash landing after being hit by enemy fire. After this brief and tense introduction, the story of Brown's life begins to unfold.

The details of his life in Mississippi paralleled the lives of many Black youth of the time. The story could have been about anyone, until the element of Brown's impossible dream is added. It is at this point that it becomes the unique story of Jesse Leroy Brown, a human story not of whirling propellers, but of the life of a sharecropper's son who worked hard for a place in history.

The author, through extensive research, reviews of personal letters, and help from those who knew Brown, provides a magisterial work that chronicles - with great detail - the inner feelings, emotions, and thoughts of the aviator. Taylor writes the story with a deep admiration for Brown-an admiration that is truly captivating. …

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