By Karole Passmore, GWC
There are so many historical references that one could use to cover Black History in Wayne County. The rich music of black musicians who recorded at Gennett studios in the early to middle part of the 20th century is one that is significant to our history.
Focus Will Be On Local African Americans Living Today
But rather than focus on a part of Black History that is already covered so well by the Starr Gennett Foundation, our focus will be on African Americans still living who have and who are impacting our community in various ways.
In this series, which will actually run past Black History Month, we will highlight people in the community who strive every day to make a difference or who are a piece of living history.
Harry Leavell: Tuskegee Airman
The first person in this series is Harry Leavell born in Richmond in 1919. Harry, still living in Wayne County, is a testament to African Americans who, early in the 20th century, were making history through their bravery during WWII.
Harry was a member of the 1170th CLD, Tuskegee Army Airmen, 1868th Aviation Engineer Battalion, going to basic training in 1943. The Tuskegee Army Airmen were the first black units to ever fly planes, during WWII.
Harry remembers his days of training with pride in an interview with Elizabeth Elsenor (click here to read transcript) from the Veteran’s History Project. But he also talks about the prejudice they had to endure as well as the unequal treatment they received when they returned home.
While white military members were given good jobs when they returned from war, along with training and education Harry shared in the interview “And, you know, all of this education, you know, from the military, and they give me one of the worst jobs in the factory, and that — I still get angry about it, you know, but I wanted to go back to work, and I thought I would get, you know, a decent job.”
After training at the Tuskegee Army Airmen camp, Harry had some significant personal losses with several family members dying. So this impacted his choices as he continued his service. Harry moved about in different positions, while seeing friends die in combat and enduring difficult living situations in tents, on the ground with gunfire all around him.
“The potential of people is tremendous…”
When asked what he learned most about his experience Harry said, “The potential of people is tremendous. All they need is a chance. People don’t know what they’re capable of doing.”
After returning from combat, Harry returned to Perfect Circle and then continued his education on the GI bill. He worked for the Fire Department for awhile and later continued studies at Irwin focusing on experimental psychology. Involved with the research of B.F. Skinner, Harry worked with a group to implement different ways to educated students with learning disabilities which had amazing results.
Harry Leavell is now around 92 years old and still living in Richmond IN. He is a living example of significant achievements in Black History in our own community.