Friday, March 30, 2007

Tuskegee Airmen

I grew up in a home that was steeped in the traditions of the Deep South. Much of that was good, certainly the cooking, and that culture does contain much in the way of courtesy and gentleness. It also, of course, has the ingredient of racial bigotry, but I was spared that by my father. Dad was a deeply moral person and he made sure from the time that I was very small that I did not grow up judging any person by the color of his skin. I am deeply grateful to him for that.

Which brings me to the Tuskegee Airmen award yesterday. Their story is, to me, both a proud and a shameful chapter in the history of this country. Shameful in that these man were forced to serve separately, but proud in that they were provided with airplanes and allowed to serve. It is certainly a proud moment in African-American history: they went to war and risked their lives, lost their lives, for a country that did not treat them as equal.

The Congressional Gold Medal is no small honor. The bill authorizing it must be sponsored, not voted upon, sponsored by two-thirds of each house of Congress. The first recipient was George Washington and there were only 131 presented after that before the presentation to the Tuskegee Airmen. (Two more are pending.) Colin Powell, who spoke at the presentation, was one of those recipients, by the way.

So yesterday’s presentation was a signal moment, a richly deserved recognition. This was not just one politician making a gesture, this was our entire legislature stepping up to the plate and hitting a home run. It’s never too late to do the right thing.

As anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, I am no fan of George W. Bush, but what I saw of his part is this presentation was very moving. He delivered the following line, and the salute, with dignity and reserve. You can see it in the clip right after Colin Powell, and about the 3-minute mark. Our President did this one right.

"I would like to offer a gesture to help atone for all the unreturned salutes and unforgivable indignities. And so on behalf of the office I hold, and a country that honors you, I salute you for the service to the United States of America."

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