Black history in the spotlight at CHEER

Rosely Robinson, front right, of Heroes Welcome Home/Delaware presents “warrior beads “to Buffalo Soldiers of Delaware members, from left, Jeff Matthews, Skip Hutson and Genean Johnson prior to her presentation at the Feb. 29 Black History Culture Day hosted by CHEER Inc. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe).

GEORGETOWN – CHEER Inc. capitalized an extra Leap Year day in February with a Black History Month grand finale Feb. 29 that saluted the impact and contributions of black history culture on local communities, America and the world.

The Feb. 29 Black History Culture Day program featured presentations on the famed Tuskegee Airmen and the Buffalo Soldiers, as well as numerous displays, including marquee recognition of the historic Richard Allen School, which served Georgetown for decades during America’s era of segregation.

More than 100 people attended the event at the CHEER Community Center.

“I think this is wonderful,” said CHEER Human Resources Director Sandy Baynard. “We were nervous. We weren’t sure how it was going to go. But as we all know in Sussex County, everybody comes together to support one another and show that we can all come together, no matter color.”

“Next year I hope we’re overcrowded,” said Walt Koopman, CHEER board vice president and a Korean War veteran.

Buffalo Soldiers

Attendees heard about the legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers, who fought gallantly in several wars after initially called upon to help the Army expand into the Wild West frontier commencing with post-Civil War.

African-American heroes are showcased Saturday at the Black History Culture Day hosted by CHEER at the community center in Georgetown.

“Our organization is committed to keeping the legacy, the memory and the history of the Buffalo Soldiers alive,” said Jerome “Skip” Hutson of the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club of Delaware.

“We do that with presentations like this. We go into schools, community centers. We have charitable functions. We work with the Home of Brave and CHEER. We just feel that we want to give back to our community at the same time that we share our history, especially with our young people.”

Mr. Hutson said, “Americans of African descent fought with distinction in every war that this country has been involved in, starting with the Revolutionary War. In the Civil War, over 37,000 Africans gave their life fighting for the freedom of this country.”

Because of the bravery demonstrated by these soldiers, following the Civil War in 1866 the U.S. Congress authorized the formation of units that became known later as the Buffalo Soldiers.

“These soldiers, most of them were former slaves and few free men, they readily joined up with the army because it offered a lifestyle that they had not been accustomed to. Even though it was very hard times for them, they were glad to sign up and become Union soldiers,” said Mr. Hutson.

Margaret Hopkins snaps a photo of the Pearl Harbor display highlighting brave hero Doris Miller, a Navy chef who manned guns during the Japanese attack.

“The army wanted these soldiers because at that time they were looking at expanding the country from the East Coast across the Mississippi to the West Coast. In order to do that, they had to have soldiers in the territories, because the Native Americans that inhabited those territories, the army wanted to move them out of the way — unfortunately. But also, there were a lot of outlaws throughout those territories.”

At any given time throughout the West, “two out of every five soldiers that were in the west were Buffalo Soldiers.”

While the main purpose was to relocate Native Americans, the Buffalo Soldiers helped guard construction of railroads and telegraphs and did mapping of water holes.

“The Buffalo Soldiers became acquainted with Native Americans, because while the army just wanted to annihilate the Native Americans, the Buffalo Soldiers found themselves protecting them as they moved them to the reservations,” Mr. Hutson said.

“It is a tragic irony, but it does lead to the respect that many African Americans have for Native Americans today and vice versa.”

According to legend, Mr. Hutson said the Buffalo Soldiers name was given by Native Americans because the soldiers’ fighting spirit reminded Native Americans of their sacred animal, and the hair of the soldiers also reminded them of the buffalo.”

Tuskegee Airmen

The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of mostly African-American military fighter and bomber pilots who fought in World War II, as well as their maintenance and support staff, instructors and other related personnel.

“This was an organization that was not supposed to survive, because it was said by the War College of 1939 that they couldn’t do this. Or we couldn’t do this. We did not have the aptitude. We did not have the demeanor. We did not have the fortitude, the courage to go one-on-one with another man in the airplane,” said Dr. Donald Blakey, president of Delaware’s John Porter Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc.

Dr. Donald Blakey shares the history of the Tuskegee Airmen during the Feb. 29 Black History Culture Day at the CHEER Community Center. (Glenn Rolfe/Delaware State News).

“These 900 souls – and I say souls gingerly because most of them are gone never to walk this earth anymore – these gentlemen proved the brass wrong.”

Dr. Blakey emphasized the Tuskegee Airmen went beyond planes.

“That means there was a lot of people involved with the Tuskegee Airmen other than the 900-plus pilots,” he said. “It’s like a pyramid, the pilots at top. The widest part of the triangle is bottom, and at the bottom were the people who served them, their dentists, medical officers, supply officers — all the people that gave them all the things that they needed to do the job while they were flying, and in most instances go unnoticed.”

The courage and bravery exhibited by the Tuskegee Airmen have a direct educational landing in Delaware through the late Dr. Daniel Coons “who was the creator of the aviation program at Delaware State University, which is flying high with 100 percent employment for every student that goes through the program,” Dr. Blakey said.

Joann Coons, wife of the late Dr. Coons, said her husband was director of libraries at DSU and “always had a passion for aviation. He talked them into starting the program. He was inspired by the Tuskegee Airmen.”

Shantina James, left, leads the singing of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” at CHEER’s Black History Culture Day. In back, Walter Koopman, CHEER board vice president, and Rosely Robinson, who gave a presentation from Heroes Welcome home/Delaware.

Dr. Blakey said Delaware’s Tuskegee Airmen chapter is supporting the Delaware State aviation program “not with lip service but with finances. We have programs in place to make sure that young men and women from all hues, from all states and outside the country get a quality aviation education with reasonable cost. The dollar does not discriminate.”

Dr. Blakey said he, too, was impacted by the Tuskegee Airmen.

“I thank Tuskegee Airmen for all they have done,” he said. “They did help me get into aviation, as probably the only African-American commercial pilot in the state of Delaware starting in 1965. I flew for about 10 years until my wife said, ‘Come home.’”

Additionally, there are plans to perpetuate the legacy. Dr. Blakey said what is being proposed to Delaware State University is to create a Tuskegee Airmen terrace between the library and the science center “to be dedicated to the Tuskegee Airmen and also those students who were a part of the civilian aviation program of the 1940s. We’ve been able to find through records 30 students – 29 men, one woman – who completed the aviation program at DSU in 1941 and 1942.”

There are Tuskegee Airmen chapters in every state.

“We have a responsibility in Delaware. That is to keep the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen … alive,” said Dr. Blakey.

Preserving history and legacies such as the Tuskegee Airmen, Buffalo Soldiers and the Richard Allen School are vitally important, Mr. Koopman said.

“We’ve got to get the youth to understand what it’s all about. Because if they are not taught at home, if they are not taught in the school system, they get miscommunicated,” said Mr. Koopman. “And there are a lot of good people out there.”