Saluting A Courageous World War II Veteran
& Civil Rights Pioneer
We join with many others in honoring
Tuskegee Airman Dabney Montgomery, who died
in Harlem on September 3rd at age 93. His
funeral took place at Mother A.M.E. Zion Church
where he was the church historian.
Born in Selma, Alabama, Dabney
Montgomery grew up amid rampant racial
injustice in the Jim Crow South. And racism also
permeated the US military, where black men were
segregated, denied leadership roles, and were
prohibited from flying planes. But some change
began during World War II, and when Mr. Montgomery was drafted in 1943 he served as a crewman in the first all-black aviator unit, the legendary Tuskegee Airmen of the Army Air Corps--who ﬂew as escorts over thousands of bombing missions in Nazi Germany. These valiant men served with distinction and rarely lost a bomber. Yet, appallingly, as black servicemen came home from the war, they couldn't ride in "white" sections on trains as they passed through the South. And, what's more, these American heroes had to leave the dining cars so that Nazi prisoners of war, who were being transported to POW camps, could eat there!
Dabney Montgomery is among 200 men and women I had the privilege of interviewing for "The Force of Ethics in Civil Rights" oral history project, videographed by David Bernstein (below). This project is informed by Aesthetic Realism, the education founded by Eli Siegel, which explains the cause of racism: contempt, the "addition to self by the making less of something else." And it explains what can end racism: criticizing contempt, including in oneself, and learning to see another person's feeling as real and as deep as our own.
In an article about his experience as cameraman for this project, David Bernstein tells what it meant to him to learn from Mr. Montgomery's life (click here to read the article). And about the racism he himself endured, Dabney Montgomery said later, "What I learned from Aesthetic Realism, helped me to understand what happened."
Dr. Jamye Coleman Williams:
A Passion for Education and Justice
By Alice Bernstein in The Tennessee Tribune
NASHVILLE, TN — Dr. Jamye Coleman Williams, educator, activist, and leader in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, was the guest speaker on March 2nd at Harvard University’s Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations.
At age 97, Dr. Williams is a vibrant, contemporary woman who has fought for equality in education and civil rights. The diverse audience of young and old included teenage freshmen, graduates, faculty, and guests, and the distinguished educator Dr. McDonald Williams (age 98), who is her husband. Hearing her speak, I thought of these words written by the great philosopher and poet, Eli Siegel, founder of Aesthetic Realism:
“[A person] will not be fully human until he [or she] is interested in justice with great intensity and with the comprehensiveness which does not wish to miss any of its forms…. Where something is wrong in the outside world, we should oppose it not only because it has affected us inconveniently, but because the idea of not opposing injustice, the sense of personal shame in permitting what is evil anywhere, makes one not like oneself.”
Dr. Williams’ rich life has been spent opposing injustice in many important ways. In her talk she discussed her work 1) as an educator for over 48 years in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs); 2) as a civil rights activist in the 1950s-60s; and 3) in the AME Church. She was introduced by Dr. S. Allen Counter, one of her earliest students, now a professor of neurobiology at Harvard. He described how crucial HBCUs were before the civil rights movement--and beyond--as the only opportunity for higher education accessible to black students. And, in the rare instances where black men and women were able to attend white colleges, they were denied jobs as teachers there when they graduated. Meanwhile, he noted that ironically, this injustice led to the employment of these highly educated and dedicated black teachers at HBCUs.
Dr. Counter expressed his gratitude for having been a student at an HBCU—Tennessee State A&I (now TSU)—and he was clearly moved to host his dear professor as guest speaker.
Education & the AME Church—Then and Now
Dr. Williams began her talk by asking young scholars to commit themselves “to careers in academe, which truly, sure enough needs you.” While telling further of her talk, I’ll also add some instances of what she has said elsewhere, including conversations we have had because of my work as a journalist and civil rights historian, work informed by my study of Aesthetic Realism. She makes clear throughout her talk that her interest in justice isn’t over; and that she continues to ask for more from herself—and others.
There is a maxim by Eli Siegel that I believe expresses the large way every person should be seen: “Every person now alive is a culmination of history.” It is certainly true about Dr. Williams, whose life has been deeply affected in particular by events in American history as far back as the 1700s and the brutality of slavery, as well as events in the 20th and 21st centuries that she witnessed and participated in. She was born in 1918 in Louisville, Kentucky, and later earned a B.A. with honors in English from her beloved alma mater Wilberforce University in Ohio. Later she lived and taught in Tennessee and Georgia. And because the AME church is one of the big forces in her life—her father and brother were AME ministers—she told of its history and its unflagging activism for higher education and economic justice for over 200 years.
The AME church is the oldest African American religious denomination in America. It arose from the Free African Society organized in 1787 by freemen protesting against slavery and racial segregation in houses of worship. In 1816, the AME was formally organized in Philadelphia, largely through the work of a former slave who bought his freedom, Rev. Richard Allen. In 1856, just before the Civil War, the AME church established its first college—Wilberforce, in Ohio —and has stood firmly ever since for education as the key to equal opportunity. Dr. Williams pointed out to her audience that one of the teachers at Wilberforce was W.E.B. DuBois, the first black awarded a PhD., by Harvard University. She expressed pride in having taught the humanities to thousands of students at five Historically Black Colleges and Universities, four of which are AME colleges and being part of their educational experience.
Read the complete article as published in the Tennessee Tribune.