A lesson in standing up from Col. Hubert "Hooks" Jones
Fletcher H. Wiley | 2/6/2014, 6 a.m.
Although we black cadets lived, worked, played, and prayed well outside of Dixie, the putrid malaise of racism permeated well beyond the Mason-Dixon Line. Still, while at or associated with the academy, our blackness was generally melded into the all-encompassing blue of the Cadet Wing.
Thinking that nothing sinister or dangerous lay before us on our Zone of Interior trip — as long as we stayed on-base (because a number of key military installations were located in the South) — I was somewhat surprised by the visit I received one afternoon before we departed by one of the Air Force officers who would be accompanying and supervising us. A major, he was the Air Officer Commanding of 21st Squadron, and apparently, as he and his colleagues meticulously planned our routes and routines, they learned that when the two groups of touring 65ers made their customary, week-long concurrent appearance with the Army at Ft. Benning in Columbus, Ga., the post would host a semi-formal, July 4th weekend dance for the visiting cadets.
As per usual, the young women for these affairs were invited from the local community, and the major and his colleagues had blanched at the thought of 700 southern belles attending an integrated dance on-post — not because they thought it was wrong, but because they did not want to offend the local populace. Accordingly, the major and his colleagues approached me with the idea — a request really — that so as to not put the academy, Ft. Benning and my white classmates in an embarrassing position, my black classmates and I would not attend the dance. Somewhat stunned by the request, I nevertheless kept my composure and told the major that I would talk the matter over with my classmates and get back to him.
I chuckled to myself as I called a “meeting of the brethren.” I explained the major’s “request” to the group; and we all laughed. The fact was that, just like most cadets, we hated going to those dances anyway! The genre was not of our black culture, and many whites felt the dances were a bit stodgy and archaic too. First of all, the music they played was straight out of the 1930s and 1940s — and the old music was compatible with the “old dances” that they taught us at USAFA like the foxtrot and the waltz.
We, on the other hand, were doing the twist, the cha-cha, the bop, the horse, the watusi, the swim, and the ever-popular slow-drag. Aside from the dances and the music, the “dates” procured for cadets at these dances were obviously not always selected for their grace or beauty. Indeed — and I am ashamed to say this now — but at each dance, awards would be made to the cadet having the ugliest date.
One of the more enterprising members of our group suggested that if we’re going to give up going to the dance, then we ought to get something out of it. Again, we laughed, because not going to the dance was reward enough! But we eventually came around to his way of thinking; and then Plummer suggested that we all get the weekend off and go home with him to Tuskegee, Ala., — a mere 50 miles away.