Tail Captured, Red Tail Free: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman and POW is
Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson’s account of becoming a Tuskegee Airman, and getting
shot down over Germany during his 19th mission on August 12th,
1944. He was taken to a prisoner of war camp, and was held captive until April
29th, 1945. Jefferson writes about growing up in segregated Detroit
and tells how his fascination with aviation influenced his education. He talks
about training to become a Tuskegee Airman and his missions overseas. He
discusses his experience as a prisoner of war, and also details his life and
career after the war.
The most interesting part for me was
reading about how many barriers stood in the way of black men to join the Army
Air Corps, because no one wanted black men to have the chance to prove they
were as intelligent and capable of flying as white pilots. Women faced similar
obstacles, as I read about in WASPs: Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War
II by Vera S. Williams. Jefferson writes:
“On September 23, 1942, I was sworn into the Army Reserves.
I immediately volunteered for flight training but was told to return home and
wait for a position to open up. When I asked when this would be, I was told not
to worry about it. I wasn’t sure I would ever be called, but at least being in
the reserves kept me from being drafted. At the time, I didn’t understand what
was going on, but I later learned there was a rigid quota restricting how many
blacks could be inducted each month into the training program at Tuskegee,”
Even if someone made it into the program, it was unlikely
that he would graduate. The government made sure that only a small percentage
of cadets graduated.
“We cadets were all college graduates…there were 90 of us
who started…by the end of our nine months of training, only 25 of us had
survived. Some were eliminated for flying inadequacies, and some for
non-military reasons. Years later, through the Freedom of Information Act, we
discovered there had been a quota for how many blacks were allowed to graduate.
The phrase used to wash guys out was “eliminated while passing for the
convenience of the government,” (26).
Like many black veterans, and talented individuals of color
in many industries, Jefferson was not officially recognized for his achievement
and sacrifice by the government until much later on in life. He received the
Purple Heart in 2001 and collected other prestigious awards too. Of course, his
induction into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame at the Kalamazoo Aviation Museum
(now known as the Air Zoo) in 1995 stood out for me among his honors.
We were researching where to vacation in Michigan and came upon this TV clip about Beaver Island. I was intrigued to learn more about lesser-known places in Michigan, so I sought out Under the Radar Michigan’s website. The TV show takes viewers all around MI to places both quirky and not quirky, but just worthy of getting to know. The series will be coming to KPL’s DVD collection this summer. In the meanwhile, check out the companion book to the show.
Each chapter corresponds to the episode of the same number. Sometimes they go to opposite sides of the state in one episode. Other times they zero in on a region-- as with chapter 45, the “West-Side Mitten Adventure”-- or a theme such as the “Michigan Festivals Special” (ch. 26.) The indexes enable you to find specific sites, cities, and regions covered in the book. Kalamazoo is featured more than once, and the Kalamazoo places listed in the book are brag-worthy. I learned about some businesses I had not known, as well as more about places already familiar to me in our community.
Check it out and start planning your next trip!
On the eve of publishing a book of poems about a murdered aunt, whose 1969 death was thought to have been part of a killing spree of a serial killer who targeted college age women near the Eastern Michigan and University of Michigan campuses, author Maggie Nelson unexpectedly received a phone call from a police detective in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who tells her that he believes he's cracked the case and is about to arrest a new suspect. This is where The Red Parts, Nelson's brilliant true crime memoir begins.
Local readers may recall the case given the suspect was employed at Borgess Hospital and lived in nearby Gobles. More than simply a straightforward account of the criminal trial, Nelson critically probes her own complicated family history in addition to trying to make sense of our culture of violence and sexism. Available to stream using your Hoopla account and in book form, The Red Parts is a fascinating page turner from a writer with a fresh, bold voice.
It’s the time of year when our camping gear comes out of storage and we start to think about where we will explore Michigan this summer. For years, one of my favorite resources has been the Best Tent Camping Michigan guide.
I always research any travel destination online and in print books. KPL has so many helpful resources for planning your next adventure in Michigan, or anywhere else.
American Street follows the story of a Haitian teenage girl named Fabiola who planned on coming to stay with her aunt and cousins in Detroit, Michigan. Though Fabiola was born in the US, and is an American citizen, her mother is not, and she ends up getting detained at the JFK airport. As a result, Fabiola is forced to start a brand new life on her own-- creating a new identity in an unfamiliar country, with family she doesn't know, all the while trying to find a way to be reunited with her mother.
It's always interesting to see your home through someone else's eyes, and this debut novel by Ibi Zoboi, a Haitian immigrant herself, provides a fresh and unique perspective on the American Dream, and the compromises one has to make along the way.
The environmental history of Michigan in the twentieth century (and beyond) has been one characterized by intermittent disasters with wide-ranging implications for the health and well-being of its citizens. One need only examine the Environmental Protection Agency’s maps of Superfund sites (specially-designated toxic waste remediation locations) in Michigan to better understand the current scope of the problems.
We have seen recent examples play out over the last year including the Flint water crisis and the discovery of water contamination stemming from a decommissioned Air Force Base in Oscoda. Citizens of Kalamazoo will be well-aware of the Allied Paper Mill / Portage Creek / Kalamazoo River Superfund PCB remediation process that has dominated the environmental consciousness of Kalamazoo and Allegan counties since the early 1990s - not to mention the subsequent Enbridge oil spill.
As alarming as these scenarios have been, the effects and general contamination produced by each could be described as relatively localized, at least in comparison to a 1973 disaster which resulted in the poisoning of the general population (approximately 9 million individuals) of Michigan through compromised dairy products. This is the subject of The Poisoning of Michigan by Joyce Egginton.
Egginton begins by summarizing the broad strokes of the accident, which began at the Michigan Chemical Corporation where a variety of industrial chemicals were produced. Among these were Nutrimaster, an additive for livestock feed which was shown to increase milk production in dairy cows and have other beneficial effects, and Firemaster, a polybrominated biphenyl (a type of chemical very similar to PCBs) that was being used at the time as a top-notch industrial fire-retardant. The chemicals were nearly indistinguishable to the naked eye, and a paper shortage had led to some extremely questionable techniques being implemented to label the 50-pound brown paper bags in which both Nutrimaster and Firemaster were shipped.
The outcome of this unconscionable confluence of circumstances was that in the Spring of 1973 a truck driver delivered several thousand pounds of Firemaster to the largest agricultural feed plant in Michigan where it was unknowingly combined with livestock feed, dispersed to more than 5,000 farms all over the state and fed to a variety of farm animals for nearly a year before being positively identified.
Egginton goes on to discuss in great detail the efforts of a handful of individuals, including a dairy farmer with a chemistry degree, who worked to pinpoint the cause of what followed: cows lost weight precipitously, milk production plummeted, chickens were born with tumors, animals in general refused to eat and perished. Similar outcomes awaited humans who consumed the products produced by those animals to the degree that a measurable decline in the athletic prowess of Michigan sports teams was noted during the years of peak contamination. All of this took place within an atmosphere which Egginton describes as one characterized by bureaucratic denial, industrial indifference, and the isolation of the afflicted.
Even when viewed alongside such well-known environmental disasters as Love Canal, which would be brought to light five years later, the degree of contamination stemming from the accident remains unparalleled in the United States. Occasionally the event is revisited by the media, and the ongoing effects are measured and discussed, but proportional to its impact, it seems to have become a little-known chapter in the environmental and agricultural history of Michigan.
I highly recommend No Ordinary Sound by Denise Lewis Patrick. The story introduces Melody Ellison, the latest addition to the American Girl historical dolls line BeForever. Reading it transported me back to my childhood growing up in Detroit during the 1960s. It is a wonderful read and I was so impressed with all the authentic references to the city and the time period.
Melody is a talented 9-year-old who loves to sing. Her story unfolds as she tries to balance her youthful dreams with the harsh realities of growing up during the Civil Rights Era. After Melody is chosen to sing a solo at her church recital, she experiences set-backs at home, in her community, and in her country.
The author has written a true classic here. I can't wait for the Melody Ellison doll to debut this summer. I just might find myself standing in line at a mall somewhere.
Sean and Sonya Hollins released their new book Benjamin Losford and his Handy Dandy Clippers on February 9, 2016. Their book release was at a Black History Month program at the Powell Branch that evening.
This true story is about a runaway slave named Abraham Losford. Abraham made it as far as Canada and later traveled back down to settle in Howell, Michigan. He opened the first barber shop in Howell cutting hair with the clippers he used as a slave. After establishing his business he headed back down south to get his wife and kids. His wife had passed away but he was able to return with his son, Benjamin. He taught Benjamin his trade and later past his clippers off to Benjamin so he could become a next generation barber. Benjamin used his father’s handy dandy clippers and opened his shop in Edmore, Michigan.
Kenjji, the illustrator of Benjamin Losford and his Handy Dandy Clippers, did a fantastic job of bringing the story to life.
At the program Sonya spoke about her career beginnings. Her interest in writing began in the 3rd grade. She had a fantastic teacher that lit a spark in her imagination the never waned. This teacher was her inspiration and later her mentor.
This is a great true story that really needed to be told.