South Florida honors an American hero -Tuskegee Airman Lt. Colonel Eldridge Williams, on his 96th birthday
Tuskegee Airman Eldridge Williams fought against tremendous odds to play a vital role during the war effort during World War II. He trained fellow officers in physical fitness and survival to fully prepare the Tuskegee Airmen for combat.
By Charles Moseley
The same hands that worked in the cotton fields of Texas during the early years of the 20th century grew up to lead a life that movies are made of. This week South Florida pays tribute to Tuskegee Airman and true American hero, Lt. Colonel Eldridge Williams during his 96th birthday celebration.
This Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013 Williams’s birthday celebration will be held at the 94th Aero Squadron Restaurant, 1395 N.W. 57th Ave, Miami, Fla, just south of Miami International Airport, beginning at 6 p.m.
A group of courageous young Black Air Force military servicemen, who became known as the Tuskegee Airmen, were among the most distinguished military personnel to serve their country during World War II. These brave airmen never lost one pilot during combat missions, as they escorted fellow bomber pilots, in Germany during the war. However, due to racial discrimination it was not until many years later that they finally began to receive the recognition they rightfully deserved.
In 2004 a documentary entitled, Silver Wings and Civil Rights: The Fight to Fly was produced. The film chronicled the racial struggles that each of these men had to endure during their effort to serve their country during a time of war.
“In WWII, the first group of African-Americans to fly for the US military proved themselves equal among their fellow flyers.
Overseas they had defeated one enemy. At home, the fight for equality was to be their greatest victory as they blazed the way for Civil Rights. They were the Tuskegee Airmen,” said film writer David Brame.
Williams is one of three known surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen to reside in South Florida. The other two include Lt. Col. Leo Gray and Judge Richard Rutledge.
Williams is 1941 graduate of Xavier University in New Orleans, LA. He earned his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Physical Education. He also is a lifetime member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
During a recent interview with the Pinecrest Tribune, Williams shared his sentiments during those troubling times he shared with his fellow Tuskegee Airmen, many of whom have departed. Although Williams trained pilots in physical fitness and survival techniques he was not allowed to participate in combat. During his physical exam a white military doctor alleged that Williams’ vision was impaired, ruling him ineligible for flight training school.
“Several times during my life I was very angry about segregation and discrimination,” re-called Eldridge. “I’d think about taking rocks to a highway over-pass and dropping them on cars, but I knew that was not right. My job was to ignore and over-come by performance.”
Williams would face racial discrimination throughout his military career which spanned across several decades and included World War II and the Korean War when he was called back to active military service during the Berlin Aircraft Crisis. Again he would serve over-seas during that military stint in Okinawa, Japan.
He finally moved to South Florida in 1964 and has called Miami home ever since. Upon moving to Dade County he was appointed as a Director of Dade County Public Schools. Williams was instrumental in the desegregation of Dade County’s public schools. In 1985 he officially retired from the school system.
Today as he approaches the “century mark” Williams still leads anactive life, giving back to his community by sharing his amazing life story, as an active member of the Miami Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen.
It is one of 55 chapters nationwide, part of the Eastern Region and a 501 (c) (3) Federal Tax Exempt Organization. They meet once a month at Florida Memorial University (the second Monday at 7 p. m in the Lehman Aviation Building – Board Room, 3rd Floor).
For further information on Lt. Eldridge Williams’ birthday celebration call Arnold Tolbert at (954)-467-8778.