Roscoe Brown Jr., one of the Tuskegee Airmen who flew over Europe during World War II, died July 2 in the Bronx, NY at age 94. His granddaughter, Lisa Bodine, said Brown had broken his hip after a recent fall.
Brown and five other airmen in 2007 accepted the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of the Tuskegee Airmen. President George W. Bush and Congress awarded the veterans with one of the nation’s highest honors for fighting to defend their country while they faced continual bigotry once they returned home.
Brown was a commander of the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group and is credited with being the first U.S. pilot to shoot down an advanced German military jet. Among his numerous service awards is the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Nearly 1,000 Black fighter pilots trained as a segregated air corp at the Tuskegee, Ala. air base. The men were not allowed to practice or fight with their White counterparts, yet distinguished themselves by painting the tails of their planes red which led to the name “Red Tails.” Their story was told in a 2012 movie of which Brown was an advisor.
Noting that military segregation had remained since the Civil War about 80 years prior to World War II, Brown told WNBC-TV in 2011: “I didn’t understand the brutality of the Civil War, but when I was a Tuskegee Airman, I knew that I was good, I knew that I had to challenge the system…and I loved to fly,” he said. “My message to young people is to keep on working. You’ve got to get better…you’ve got to get disciplined…you’ve got to believe. And if you believe you can overcome. That’s the story of the Tuskegee Airmen.”
A native of Washington, D.C., Brown held a doctorate from New York University. He was a former president of the Bronx Community College at the City University of New York, and once served as director of the Institute of Afro-American Affairs at New York University. He was later a professor at The City University of New York Graduate Center and director of the Center for Urban Education Policy. Brown also hosted “African American Legends,” a public affairs show produced by CUNY TV.
“During his 17 years at the Bronx Community College, Dr. Brown intensified the college’s outreach to New York City’s economic and educational institutions through partnerships with business and industry,” said CUNY Chancellor James Milliken. “With his leadership, new programs were developed in high growth professions in the fields of health, technology and human services.”