Robert Russa Moton

Posted on February 1, 2011 by

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Robert Russa Moton ~ August 26, 1867 – May 14, 1940



Founding Father of the Tuskegee Airmen


Memorial association established to honor him

By Bro. Mxolisi & Bro. Horace Booker

Amelia County Virginia

We assume, perhaps inaccurately, given the way that the achievements and contributions of African Americans can be swept under the rug of disdain and indifference in this country, that the Tuskegee Airmen are not a totally unknown phenomenon of national and world history. After all, these brave men – pilots, ground crew, mechanics, support staff, et al – fought through vicious Jim Crow indignities (civilian and military) to earn the right to put their exceedingly excellent skills to work to help U.S. and Allied forces emerge victorious from World War II.

During that war, the Tuskegee Airmen downed 112 enemy aircraft, including the best that German forces had to offer. On most of their missions they escorted heavy bombers on raids against targets in Germany, Austria, and other locations in Central Europe. So successful were they, that U.S. bomber pilots who at first viewed them with racist disrespect began to ask for them as escorts, to give themselves the best odds for success and safety. (Visit http://www.tuskegeeairmen.org for further details and history.)

While the Tuskegee Airmen might be known, the man who is held to be most responsible for their advent by those most intimately involved, including surviving airmen and their families, and other members of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. – that man, Robert Russa Moton, is essentially unknown outside that circle. And those who know of his contributions and involvement feel strongly that it is way past time for proper recognition to be extended to him.

Those concerns have led to the establishment of the Dr. Robert Russa Moton Memorial Association (RRMMA) in Dr. Moton’s birth place, Amelia, Virginia. Spearheaded by native Amelian, and Tuskegee Airmen member, retired USAF M/Sgt. Horace E. Booker, the association is dedicated to the establishment of a memorial at Moton’s birthplace in Amelia County, and the restoration of his childhood home in Prince Edward County. These and other aims of the association will “provide the public, particularly aerospace and educational organizations, opportunities to honor the principle founder of a great aviation institution that aided in global effort for freedom from tyranny during WWII,” says Booker, “and an opportunity to pay appropriate homage to a true, but lesser acknowledged champion of civil rights.”

Moton was an author, devoted father, university president, civil rights activist and educator. He was born in Amelia County, Virginia on August 26, 1867, just two years into the Reconstruction era. As a young child, he moved with his family just a few miles away to the neighboring county of Prince Edward. His childhood home still stands there. At the age of 18, Moton entered Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia. During his tenure there he traveled extensively to northern cities to persuade philanthropists to contribute much needed funds to predominantly Black colleges. Upon his graduation in 1890 he became the school’s Commandant in Charge of Military Discipline, a post he held for 25 years.

 

In 1905, Dr. Moton married the former Elizabeth Hunt Harris, who died in 1906. Two years after her death, Dr. Moton married again. His second wife was the former Jennie Dee Booth with whom he had five children. One of his children would later become a United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for public affairs. Another of their children, a daughter, eventually married Mr. Frederick D. Patterson, Dr. Moton’s successor as President of Tuskegee University.

 

Dr. Moton became president of Tuskegee Institute in 1915, following the death of Dr. Booker T. Washington, Tuskegee’s founder and first president. Under Dr. Moton’s leadership, Tuskegee Institute became a university and offered its first baccalaureate degrees and significantly raised the awareness for Negro education in a free America.

 

Additionally, Dr. Moton was summoned by President Woodrow Wilson to travel to France at the end of WWI to inspect Black troops stationed there, and to investigate allegations of their riotous lack of discipline and criminal behavior, including sexual assaults. His investigation found those allegations to be unfounded; that the behavior of Black troops was essentially the same as that of White troops. On May 30, 1922 Dr. Moton was the keynote speaker at the unveiling of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. In April 1930 Dr. Moton was the recipient of the Harmon Award in Race Relations and in 1932 he was awarded the Spingarn Medal for excellent leadership and service in the field of education.

Dr. Moton was the principle founder of the Tuskegee Airmen. During World War I, he petitioned the federal government for a Negro Officers Training Camp in Tuskegee Alabama. His efforts to have Black pilots train and fly in the US Army aviation corps led to the formation of the Tuskegee Airmen. Expected to fail, the Tuskegee Airmen initiative was dubbed the Tuskegee “Experiment” because the conventional wisdom believed Blacks were not capable of flying technically advanced machines such as airplanes; and if they were, they certainly lacked the courage and skill to fight heroically in combat.

His early civil rights labors were realized, culminating in the impeccable record established by the Tuskegee Airmen during WWII. The extraordinarily tremendous effect the Tuskegee Airmen had on the outcome of WWII led to desegregation of the United States military. Soon thereafter, the embers of the civil rights movement began to heat up and then caught fire across the entire nation.

 

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Booker is extending “an open invitation to all people, organizations and, particularly the citizens of Amelia County, Virginia to join in celebrating the life and legacy of one of our proud native sons, Dr. Robert Russa Moton. We desperately need your support to make this goal a reality.” If you or your organization would like to be a part of this community based project please contact Horace E. Booker, at horrus@earthlink.net or by telephone at (804) 561-1737; or write to him at 10331 Winterham Road, Amelia, VA 23002.

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Posted in: History/Culture