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Friday, March 15, 2013

A Montford Point Marine and Tuskegee Airmen In One Immediate Family

Some of my readers are very astute. They have paid close attention to my writings and might have developed hunches, and or recognized foreshadowing. So I will confirm what a small fraction of what my insightful followers already know. Montford Point Marine Clifford Primus had an older brother who was a Tuskegee Airmen. 


The Tuskegee Experience, Documented Original Tuskegee Airmen (DOTA) is anyone--man or woman, military or civilian, black or white-- who served at Tuskegee Army Airfield or in any of the programs stemming from the "Tuskegee Experience" between the years 1941-1949, is considered to be a documented Original Tuskegee Airman (DOTA).

So while my father was making history as a part of the Nation's First Black Marine, and also in the first combat battalion, the 51st, my uncle, the late Dr. Jay Primus, (1918-1998) was making history at the same time.

As a young child growing up, I would always observe my father and Uncle Jay, joking and carrying on. Uncle Jay was the oldest of my father's brothers, so I imagine that Dad looked up to him, as younger kids turn to their older brother and sister for guidance. The African American Community in the Primus Family hometown of  Daytona Beach was a cohesive group. Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, a member of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "Black Cabinet", provided a beacon of hope to the local residents. There were teachers that cared about student learning and various churches with dynamic preachers. Everyone knew everybody and whose child you were.

Dad and his siblings attended the segregated schools in Daytona Beach, Florida: Cypress Creek Elementary and Campbell High School. He remembers his teachers fondly, and several days ago admitted to being somewhat of a class clown. Books were hand me downs from white students that were given to the Negro students. This was usually after the white school officials deemed the books unacceptable. Dad walked to his elementary school, which was not too far from his house. He recalls other students that had to get up extra early and walk miles to school. White students were bused.

Clifford Primus is the only surviving member of his graduating class at Campbell High School. His classmate,  the late Yvonne Scarlett Golden, became mayor of Daytona Beach. She was salutatorian of his class, and Paula Pittman was valdictorian, dad reports. In any event, dad's classmate became mayor of Daytona Beach, Florida in her late seventies, after spending time as an education advocate for minorities in San Francisco, CA and a career as a principal. Whenever Dad spoke to the late Mrs. Golden, the two would tease each other and talk about the old days.

But back to my Uncle Jay. He was born in 1918, making him five years older than my dad. Jay played football in high school and stood about six feet five. Like most of the Primus men, he was handsome and tall. Uncle Jay attended Johnson C. Smith College in Charlotte, North Carolina, a Historically Black College, and played football. Dad stated that his father, the landscaper, worked extra hours to help pay Uncle Jay's college tuition. He also indicated that he knew of only several young men (one being the son of a merchant) who was able to attend Johnson C. Smith during those tough economic times.

 Sometimes Uncle Jay would visit our hometown in Windsor, Connecticut, and swing by the Hartford residence of Doc Hurley's. Hurley was an athlete that played football against my uncle in college. Doc Hurley played football for Virginia State, and is well known in the Greater Hartford, CT area for community service and his famous Doc Hurley Basketball Tournament. Uncle Jay would also visit other Tuskegee Airmen in the area during his visits.

I always treasured the insightful wisdom that my Uncle Jay imparted. It was never long and tedious, but straightforward and to the point. I would later ask myself, "But how does he know?" He was always on track.

Like the Montford Point Marines, The Tuskegee Airmen had to be the brightest. My Uncle Jay later went on to attend Howard University's College of Dentistry, in Washington, D.C (It is the fifth oldest dental school in the U.S.; 1881) and settled in Elyria, Ohio where he spent the majority of his life. He was also an artist, and even inspired me to attend Spelman College in Atlanta, GA, where his daughters attended. Spelman is a private, all female HBCU founded in 1881 by two white female missionaries. 

Uncle Jay's younger daughter, the late Dr. Jan Primus, (1959-2002) was featured in Sisters in Science: Conversations with Black Women Scientists by Diann Jordan, 2006. The book describes African American Women who made significant strides in science. Dr. Jann Primus attended Massachusettes Institute of Technology (M.I.T., Cambridge, MA) for her Doctorate in Biochemistry and later taught science at our undergraduate Alma mata, Spelman College.

 My cousin Jann was also a member of Spelman's Board of Trustees. While matriculating at  Spelman, fellow students would proclaim, "Desiree, I like your cousin and all, but she is killing me in biology." I chuckled, remembering how a teenaged, bespectacled Jann once sat at a wedding reception engrossed in a thick book, while everyone was dancing to R&B and early disco music.

Uncle Jay also was the conduit for another important event in my father's life. However, that would be several years later....

TWO MEDAL OF HONOR MEMBERS IN ONE IMMEDIATE FAMILY. How rare is that in American history? I am not a statistician or a data cruncher but one does not need to be scientist to conclude that it is indeed extremely unique. Preliminary research reveals that there are only about ten. This would make Clifford Primus and the late Dr. Jay Primus the first African American brothers.

There are Three African American Military Groups that received Medal of Honors:  Buffalo Soldiers, Montford Point Marines, and The Tuskegee Airmen. The Primus family that lived in Daytona Beach, Florida produced TWO members in one immediate family!


Notes:  (1)Montford Point Marines existed between the same years as the Tuskegee Experience, 1941-1949.

(2) Buffalo Soldiers were established by Congress as the first peacetime all Black regiments in the regular US Army, (1866-1951).They were used in American Indian Wars, Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, and also to patrol National Parks such as Yosemite (See Invisible Men: Buffalo Soldiers of the Sierra Nevada by Shelton Johnson). The famous song by Bob Marley, "Buffalo Soldier" was a tribute to them.

(3) A notable alumni of  Johnson C. Smith is Albert Manley, class of 1930, who was President of Spelman College, Atlanta, Georgia, from 1953-1976. Despite the pernicious racism that existed after slavery was abolished, many of the HBCUs listed on this page were established by white individuals and received financial backing by whites. Additionally, these institutions of higher learning have produced America's most successful and famous African Americans and are deemed competitive with high academic rankings.

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