By Chuck Stewart, Jr.
Newburgh - History came to life Saturday night during the 10th annual Tuskegee Tuition Assistance Dinner Dance. As the Mistress of Ceremonies Sara Humphreys put it, "It’s one thing to read about history. It’s another to be able to meet the men who created it."
Retired Maj. Gen. Irene Trowell-Harris, the local chapter’s namesake was present. She was among many of the distinguished guests. Several original Tuskegee Airmen - the famed black aviation unit of World War II - were also present including Willie Jackson, Julius Freeman, William Wheeler, and the evenings Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Isaiah Robinson.
Throughout the evening, people had an opportunity to embrace them as they shared the legacy and history of the Tuskegee Airmen. If you had a chance to hear Trowell-Harris’ story, it might have been sweet and to the point. She raised herself up from picking cotton in the fields of South Carolina to a top position in the U.S. Air Force.
Robinson, prior to moving to Middletown in 1992, led a distinguished New York City life, having served as president of the city’s school board for two terms and was a commissioner of civil rights.
But the spotlight belonged to the young people. With the theme this year "A Decade of Mentoring . . . Accented by Gold," the students heard from a number of motivating speakers, including Brig. Gen. Verlie Johnston, Jr., the 105th Commander at Stewart; Sara Humphreys, the Mistress of Ceremonies; Senator William Larkin; Congressman Maurice Hinchey and the evening’s Congressional Gold Medal recipient Isaiah Robinson.
Robinson, whose life could easily be the subject of a movie, briefly recounted his time as a Tuskegee Airmen. "Just as I was about to be shipped to the South Pacific to bomb Japan in 1945, the war ended," Robinson said. That was after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
While he never saw combat, he had battle stories from being exposed to Jim Crow segregation. Having grown up in Rosedale, just south of Birmingham, Ala., he knew first hand about racism. But he didn’t allow that to stand in the way of becoming a pilot. He was one of 20 men who graduated in a class of 300, because as he put it, "the standards were so high." Encouraging the scholarship recipients that they too could become anything they chose - and to "live up" to the high expectations of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Glendon Fraser handed out the "big checks," to this year’s scholarship recipients, who each received $1,000. The recipients and their schools are: Miriam Montes, Newburgh Free Academy; Mariah Fountain, Newburgh Free Academy; Candice Otero, St. John the Baptist Diocesan HS; Michelle Grant, North Adams Public Schools; Austin Brochetti, Wallkill High School; Paris West, New Rochelle High School; Richard Mitchell, Newburgh Free Academy; Jeffrey Arndt, Smithtown High School East; Nia Newton, Newburgh Free Academy; Laisa Pertet, Newburgh Free Academy; and Caitlyn Hitt, Tri-Valley High School.
An endowment fund has been established to continue to provide the annual scholarships for deserving young men and women of the Hudson Valley in perpetuity. If you would like to make a tax deductible donation, you can contact the chapter by sending an e-mail to tai-ny.org or phone (845) 838-7848.