Segment 1


Dr. Roscoe C. Brown was born in Washington D.C. and lived there for the first 17 years of his life. At the time, Washington D.C. was a very interesting place. The public transportation system, Smithsonian museums, and the Library of Congress were not segregated but the schools, restaurants, and theaters were. The public schools in Washington D.C. were better than the white schools because many of the upper class white people sent their children to private schools. The public schools in the black school system had teachers with PhDs and Masters degrees because they could not get jobs elsewhere. Howard University was the only place they could go. Brown attended Dunbar High School. Dunbar High School produced many doctors, lawyers, and teachers: the first black federal judge, William Hastings; the man who developed the blood bank in World War 2, Charles Drew; and the first black Congress woman from Washington D.C., Eleanor Holmes Norton. It was a great experience and Brown graduated number 3 in his class. He then went to Springfield College in Massachusetts where he studied with one of the founders of sports medicine. Brown had a great childhood. The black community was an integral community. They had their own bank, businesses, theaters, restaurants, and schools. People of all social classes lived in the same community because of the segregated housing but this was good for the community because there were good role models there. Washington D.C. was a good place to live but they lived under the specter of segregation and racism. They were taught that if they did good in school they would eliminate racism. Brown came from the generation of the first black to do this. His father was a dentist who became a public health official and a member of Roosevelt’s black cabinet. Many of Brown’s other colleagues were his role models. When World War II started, Brown wanted to be in the Air Corps but back in 1925 the military had conducted a study called the Utilization of Negro Troops which concluded that blacks did not have the intelligence, the leadership ability, creativity, or the coordination to be pilots or to be leaders in the military. From the beginning of the Air Corps through 1940 there were no black in the Air Corps although there were blacks who flew for the Royal Canadian Air Force, Eugene Bullard the Black Swallow of Death, and Bessie Coleman, the first black female pilot licensed in America. Coleman had gone to France to learn to fly because of the segregation and racism back in the United States. In the 1930s the air racing movement started. Jimmy Doolittle, Roscoe Turner, Amelia Earhart, and Jackie Cochran were the flying personalities they grew up with. Like many others who became pilots, Brown built models. When Brown was in high school he took two years of compulsory Jr. ROTC [Annotator’s Note: Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps]. After graduating high school and while he was in college he went to a Civilian Military Training Camp where he trained to become an officer. By the time he was 19 he was rated as a 2nd Lieutenant in the infantry. The draft age was 21. Brown was called to active duty as a lieutenant but he wanted to finish college. He resigned his commission and applied for the aviation cadet program. The day after he graduated from college he left for Keesler Field in Biloxi, Mississippi. Keesler Field was a terrible place. Racism pervaded the place. In addition to being segregated the black non-commissioned officers were harder on them than some of the whites because they wanted to keep them in their place because they were a bunch of smart northerners coming down to Mississippi to show off. It was an interesting transition for Brown. The NAACP [Annotator’s Note: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], the Pullman Car Porters Union, and the black press had pushed for an aviation unit for blacks during the presidential election of 1940. Roosevelt was under pressure so he did three things. He appointed the first black general, General Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., the father of Brown’s future commander, he established the Fair Employment Practices Commission guaranteeing equal pay for equal work for blacks working in the defense industry, and he established the 99th Pursuit Squadron. Many people including General Hap Arnold felt that blacks did not have the same abilities. Not all people were that close minded. At Tuskegee Army Air Base where they were trained their first commanding officer, von Kimball [Annotators Note: Colonel Frederick von Kimball], was a racist and segregated everything. Because of racism and discrimination the federal government spent over 1 million dollars building a seperate air base to train African Americans. The president of Tuskegee Institute, Fred Patterson, allowed the pilots to do their civilian training there. As a result the Tuskegee pilots got excellent training. Colonel Noel Parrish gave the Tuskegee pilots a chance. 1000 pilots were graduated and got their wings and commissions out of the 3000 thousand who had been recruited. Brown believes that another thousand pilots would have graduated if they had been at a white base and there had been no segregation. Brown graduated from college on 12 or 13 March 1943 and left the next day to go to Keesler Field to do his Air Force indoctrination. From there they went to Tuskegee Institute for a transition program, the College Training Detachment, where they did some marching and flew ten hours in a Piper Cub. After that they went to Tuskegee Army Air Base for their pre-flight training, then returned to the Tuskegee Institute where they lived while doing their primary flight training at Moton Field [Annotator’s Note: in Tuskegee, Alabama]. At Moton Field they flew the PT-17 then flew the BT-13 after that. During advanced flight training they flew the AT-6. Brown graduated flight training in March 1944 in class 44-C. He got ten hours of transition time in the P-40 at the Tuskegee Army Air Base after which he was supposed to go to Selfridge Field in Michigan to train on the P-39 but because of racial tensions in Detroit he ended up on a train to Walterboro, South Carolina. There they became the first class to do transitional training in the P-47 Thunderbolt. After three months of training at Walterboro, Brown was sent overseas as a replacement pilot. He was part of the first group of replacement pilots sent overseas.


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