A lesson in standing up from Col. Hubert "Hooks" Jones
Fletcher H. Wiley | 2/6/2014, 6 a.m.
Not anxious to get off the military installation and delve any further into the Deep South, I was not at all sanguine about the idea. However, Bentley insisted that we could party hard over the weekend with good soul food and music — and, there would be girls — his girlfriend for one. Since we had not yet been home after 12 hard months at the Air Force Academy — and since we had an opportunity to get at least one of us home — we all agreed to the plan; and I was sent back to the major to cut the deal.
He carefully listened to my request for an “accommodation,” my leverage argument being that not only would we not go to the dance, but we would also not be on-post during the dance — thereby avoiding an embarrassing situation. He liked the idea, and took the matter up with his superiors. Our proposal was approved; and we were asked to be discreet in discussing the arrangement with our classmates. They didn’t want everyone asking for the special deal of skipping the dance and/or going home early.
Off we went on our excursion; and three weeks into the trip, both cohorts of the Class of 1965 arrived at Ft. Benning. After an exciting week “playing war” with the Army, Friday came, and we whisked away to our weekend to Tuskegee. Of course, our supervising Air Force officers knew what the deal was; and necessity required us also to share the facts with some of our classmates, who were answerable for our presence.
Indeed, it didn’t take long for the word to get around that “Hey, the black guys are getting the weekend off, and they don’t have to come to the dance!” The reaction of most of my white classmates that I talked to was how rotten it was that we were being made to miss a class function because of racial segregation — even the guys from the South said so, though they understood more than most the turmoil that would be caused by our presence. For the most part, we were envied for getting away to someone’s home before the rest of the Class could do it; having the weekend off with music, partying and home cooking; and most of all, missing a dance.
Before we left the post, we made sure to go to the bathroom so that we wouldn’t have to stop at an unfriendly, segregated facility while on the road. As we headed down the two-lane highway and passed the no-interior-plumbing wooden hovels, the shanty towns, and cotton fields along the road, my misgivings about travelling in the Deep South resurfaced. I thought about the lynchings, the violence, the backwardness and the danger enshrouding Dixieland; and I had second and third thoughts about leaving the safety of the post behind. Luckily, I also thought about Tuskegee as the home of Tuskegee Institute, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver and the renowned Tuskegee Airmen — heroes to blacks across the nation, and exemplars to black cadets at the service academies. Those thoughts made the ride easier; and after an hour, we pulled into town.