Crabs in a Barrel

Crabs In A Barrel

Part of the Straight Up! No Chaser! Commentary Series By:​ Tonya Crew, JD

My father had a theory about Black folks. Part of that theory was the crabs in the barrel story. But he added, there are four kinds of black people: the opportunists, the idealists, the beaters, and the invisibles. He never used these terms; he was a simple man and street smart far beyond his fifth-grade education, but he lacked the requisite vocabulary.

The opportunists are well-educated, whether street or formal. They are constantly cruising for that break, looking to make things happen for themselves.  They are usually not very creative, and tend to acquire their brilliance from others, with or without their permission.

Next is the idealist. This is usually a well-educated or spiritually tuned individual, who understands the concepts of sharing, empathy, and compassion. They have a strong sense of right and wrong – they will stand up, but usually alone. They take responsibility until life wears them down and they want no more of it.

Then there are the beaters, who are exactly what the name represents. They have no desire or pride and do not care from where their bounty comes, just so it does. They are the schemers, plotters, planners, and con (wo)men). And finally, there are the invisibles. They see everything but they know nothing – they don’t stand up or sit down. They wish to exist just under the radar. They don’t support or protest anything. They are resigned to get through like a soldier trapped behind enemy lines, forced to employ stealth to survive. None of these models precludes any of these folks from running a successful business. I am sure you can match a business with each of these proposed “types.” Even the invisibles run stores, beauty salons, etc. They just don’t want anything to do with anyone or anything else, like chambers, organizations, or charities. Part of the rationale behind this thinking is the age-old theory of crabs in a barrel.

But without regard for the history, let’s speak of the future. Not surprisingly, minority small businesses were more disproportionately impacted at the onset of the recession than their majority counterparts. Black businesses don’t benefit from the loyalty of ethnic consumerism like some groups.

There are two important things to note here. First – should the economy get worse, small business may be forced to consider collaborations and services packaging to survive. There are already bartering systems being instituted across the country. But one would have a really difficult time exercising any type of Black collaborative because of “haters” (you know who you are). There are many opportunities which could be quite lucrative for Blacks if they could sit down to the table, agree to dislike each other (over personal unrelated minutia) but agree to work together for the prosperity of all involved.

And second – the denial of credit to minorities has switched from detriment to benefit. Blacks were forced to use cash, and so cash is how they deal. The amount of cash Black Americans inject into the US market annually is staggering. However, the amount that stays in the community is not and our community has been singing this song for over forty years. Our history of fighting and backstabbing has to be addressed and rectified. Other ethnic groups are much more successful at setting aside their differences in the name of profit. This is a lesson we are hard-pressed to learn. Unfortunately, those of us capable of promoting change are more “invisibles” than “idealists.”

So where do we start? Acknowledge the problem, that’s the first step. Next, we can start small and build collaborative work spaces with others. Opportunity happens where the right people are sitting around the table. And don’t forget, the crab that is trying to escape the barrel is in the same situation as the one pulling him back into it. They are all headed for the pot.

What’s Wrong with America… Americans?

What’s Wrong with America… Americans?

Part of the Straight Up! No Chaser! Commentary Series By:​ Tonya Crew, JD

After the debt crisis debate, the S & P downgrade and now the market slide, I don’t know what’s wrong with America. This is not the same country I grew up in – the character of the place has changed. The collective consciousness was to leave our children better off than we were. And quite frankly, it’s the idea that I will witness the first generations leave their children with “less” of many things – less money, less water and air quality, and less opportunities. This is very disturbing to me, as it should be to us all. With what?” Isn’t it time for a “real” tea party. Are Americans so content, distracted, or disconnected, that we are missing the point. This used to be our country. Now, exactly what are the citizens doing while Rome is burning? Nothing!

Okay, Okay, I will calm down and get to the point. I usually don’t wax the political/philosophical, but I am incredibly frustrated, that day after day, a new crisis emerges in this country and pushes the “jobs issue” further back in line. I get the country is not happy with the President. I also get the country is not happy with Congress, and if I hear one more person say, “throw the bums out” I am going to scream. Really! Aren’t there new ones just lined up to take their places?

There are many things in life a person can do without, but a job is not one of them. Unfortunately, the cost of joblessness cuts much deeper than the cost of unemployment; for the college graduate facing under-employment, if any employment at all, the formative years of your career may be lost to a ten to fifteen year delay in economic growth; for people in the 50 -65 age group, those last most productive years, when consulting or prospering from your years of experience were supposed to bolster your shrinking pensions and retirement accounts – gone! I am not talking about people who are not able to work, or who just don’t want to work. I am talking about the person who takes pride in work, who loves the sense of accomplishment – those who understand that work is a necessary function. And the idea that small businesses can cure the ills of this “jobless” economy is total and complete fiction. Most small businesses are only the owner and maybe a couple of employees. Every so often a larger start-up may spring up, but “small and svelte” are still the keys to economic survival, so heavily-laden payrolls are not the way to get there. I am quite sure I am not the only person in this country who is frustrated with what is happening to our workforce, our people, our country.

Small business needs leadership where there is no structure for leadership. Small business needs innovations, other than “a faster Internet” or “a new form of social media.” We need the innovation of the great empire builders, the dedication of inventors, the determination of the explorer; these are the great minds that seem to be missing from this equation. Americans used to solve problems, not only here, but around the world. What have we solved lately? Only through redefining, re-engineering, and re-purposing our resolve are we going to find our way out of this recession. I am no economist, but I know dysfunction when I see it. At one point in the national conversation, people talked about alternatives, collaborations, and establishing local barter systems. Things appeared to be improving and we reverted to our old ways of thinking; instead of preparing for what could be a double dip recession, more layoffs, more job losses, more losses from the Stock Market. Okay, I’m done. Just had to have my say.

I have friends all over the world, and if they were to ask me “what’s wrong with America? I would be forced to reply. . . Americans.

Contemporary Patriots

Contemporary Patriots

Contemporary Patriots

In Today’s Political World

Part of the Straight Up! No Chaser! Commentary Series By:​ Tonya Crew, JD

Before the ink could dry on my first comments regarding the Democratic National Convention, Mitt Romney forced me to change the dialogue. After the DNC, several things changed in this critical and quite major political race. Democrats found their enthusiasm.

Clinton was superb, in the way only he can be; clearly explaining the progress of President Obama, even clarifying the circumstances. Needless to say we saw the bump, and felt the tide turn for the Democrats. My message, in short, was “if you haven’t decided to go to the polls, because you were less than enthusiastic about what Obama has or has not done or said about African Americans, I advised , we move that emphasis to giving the President the benefit of the doubt and show up to the polls.


Presidents Clinton and Obama
President Barack Obama talks with former President Bill Clinton before an event in McLean, Va. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

However, after Romney showed his true colors- it becomes imperative that he never occupy the big chair in the Oval office. The dialogue changed from the President “won’t do anything for me” to “won’t do anything to me.” In large part, the wealthy in America got rich on the backs of the poor. But when a candidate for the “highest office” says he “doesn’t care about 47% of the country” – which includes many of his own party – it’s time to move.

Our feelings about our President are complicated; many Blacks blindly follow, just as they did when the momentum of history shoved us past what could have been the ideal solution. A Clinton/Obama ticket would have yielded a second candidate ready to continue the path to recovery another eight years- with Obama for 2016. But like the recent discovery that they could fight back, the Democrats seem to be finally learning how to play this game, and their failure to plan into the future, has continuously cost us big.

Barack and Michelle Obama with White House visitors
President Obama and The First Lady Greet Visitors in The White House Lawn. (Official White House Photo).

 I must say, I will go to the polls, if for no other reason than to show my support for a Democratic party that stands its ground (a proud moment for any Democrat), but I only recently came to that position. I have lawyer colleagues and friends who would defend Obama’s inability to be the President of Black Americans, and completely freak out at the idea that many Black Americans are not as enthusiastic about the President as they were the first go round. I also understand the opposite perspective. If I hear one more, “pull yourself up by your boot straps” speech from Obama, I will be done with him. This is the patent message majority leaders have been feeding the underclass since “turn the other cheek” in the slavery era, and President Obama should know the roads to escape poverty in this country are heavily manned and densely mined. Few escape unfettered. And in all honesty – the convention only highlighted just how “taken for granted” the Black base really is. He must be the President for all Americans – that’s what he stated repeatedly.

Forgotten Vietnam War Hero, SFC Howard Lee Early

Forgotten Vietnam War Hero, SFC Howard Lee Early

Forgotten Vietnam War Hero,
SFC Howard Lee Early

Tribute to a Forgotten Vietnam War Hero from Jonesville, LA

by: Murph Jack (Tex) Marrow


SFC Howard Lee Early
SFC Howard Lee Early – “I cannot help but think that, in a different time, a different place, or a more popular war, that just maybe, Howard would have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor instead of the Silver Star for his last great act of heroism.” – Murph Jack (Tex) Marrow

On May 28, 2002, the day after the Memorial Day holiday, I, Murph Jack (Tex) Marrow, retired Army Combat Infantryman, kept a promise to my friend and Vietnam veteran brother in arms, Howard Lee Early, by visiting his grave in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Jonesville, LA. Early was killed in action 33 years ago, but I had only recently been able to pay my respects to this true war hero. Like many of the Vietnam Vets, I had tried to put the memories of my tours in Vietnam out of my mind, and forget about that sad and difficult time in our country’s history.

I had been quite successful in burying the horrors of Vietnam until, quite by chance I found myself parked across the street from the Vienam War Memorial Wall in Washington DC. I had been in DC to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony to honor the Tomb of the Unknowns, as I had done the previous year, but could not bring myself to visit the Wall. But this time, fate intervened.

During my visit at the wall, I started looking up a few close Army buddies, and most especially the five other Infantrymen who were Drill Sergeants with me during 1968 at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas. The other five Drill Sergeants and I all came up on orders for our second tours to a combat zone as Infantrymen at almost the same time. All had vowed to stay in touch while in Vietnam.

Five of the six men, including myself and Early, were Senior Drill Instructors and class leaders in friendly professional competition with each other for top class honors. Out of the six men who left for Vietnam from this small unit, only two came back alive. I was one and the other a non-commissioned officer.

I was assigned as an Infantry Advisor to an Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) Infantry Battalion. Early spent the first six months of his tour with the 82nd Airborne Division, but after six months he was allowed to transfer to Advisory Duty in the south where he was assigned to a Mobile Advisory Team not far from my location.

I encountered Early by chance while on a re-supply chopper flight which landed at Early’s base camp with supplies. This was just prior to “Tet,” the Vietnamese New year, in 1969. We spoke briefly and made plans to get together in Vinh Long (the Province capital) after Tet and visit for a couple of days. We agreed that we would stay in touch as we were only 10-20 miles apart and both monitored the same Advisory Team radio frequency.

I was in radio contact with Early’s team and happened to be monitoring the radio on the afternoon of February 19, 1969. I had the misfortune of hearing Early, the team medic, and the Lieutenant voluntarily charge into the rice paddies with a small popular force Vietnamese team to repel a Viet Cong patrol. I listened to Early’s team [SFC Howard Lee Early] courageously engage the Viet Cong in a fierce fire fight and at the same time request helicopter gun ship support.

Then all at once I heard that Early and the team were themselves caught up in an ambush with no way to escape. I continued to listen to their heroic fight, hoping that a helicopter-borne relief could be mounted in time to pull them out. The only way in or out of Early’s location was by canal or helicopter.

But darkness arrived before the helicopters and the team members did not respond to further radio calls. I continued to monitor the radio while the helicopter crews braved the heavy ground fire, searching for survivors or killed-in-action. I remember that it took them quite a long time to locate Early. I figure that he put up one heck of a fight and the Viet Cong paid dearly for his life. Early’s body was the last one recovered.

I attended the Memorial for Early and the other team members at the Air Field Chapel in Vinh Long. I did not escort his body back home as James Griffin, another one of the our Fort Sam Houston infantry buddies who had been in Early’s Drill Sergeant Team, was still at Fort Sam and wanted to escort the body.

After the funeral, Griffin wrote me a letter in which he said that he was ashamed that Early had not received a proper military funeral befitting a bona fide combat hero. But I put this out of my mind due to the fact that Vietnam had become a very unpopular war. I did, however, promise myself and Early’s memory that I would visit his grave and pay him the proper respect he deserved.

I finally kept my promise to Early the day after Memorial Day this year. When I finally located the small cemetery far back in the corner of a residential area, I was appalled. After locating the grave of this true American hero, I lost control, broke down and sobbed. My heart actually hurt for Howard Lee Early.

Here it was, the day after Memorial Day, and this great American, who courageously gave his life for his country, did not even have a flag on his grave. We noticed several other Veteran’s graves in this small obscure cemetery, including Howard’s father. None were honored with their country’s flag.

On the way back home to Dallas, I tried in vain to understand why no one had taken the time to honor Howard Lee Early, this true American hero. After talking with Darry Early, Howard’s nephew, who was a young boy when Howard was buried, I decided that after 33 years, I owed it to Howard, his family (especially his children), and Jonesville, Louisiana, to let them know about their hometown hero so they might honor him too.

Howard Lee Early was born on August 11, 1932 and joined the US Army in Jonesville. He served his country as a Combat Infantryman, Airborne (Master Parachutist), Drill Sergeant Qualified. He was, simply put, one of the most outstanding soldiers to have ever served our country in combat. He was a man’s man. Even though I competed against Howard during our troop training days at Fort Sam Houston as a friendly rival, down deep I knew that in many respects he was a better Drill Sergeant than I was. (Of course, I never admitted this to him.)

To his friends and military peers, Howard was unique. He looked like and reminded us of the great Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr He was a great soldier, a great American, and the world is surely a better place because Howard Lee Early was here.

Howard Lee Early was killed in action in the Republic of Vienam in Vinh Long Province on February 19, 1969. At the time of his death, he held the rank of SFC/E7. I cannot help but think that, in a different time, a different place, or a more popular war, that just maybe, Howard would have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor instead of the Silver Star for his last great act of heroism. Howard Lee Early’s military awards included:


  • The Silver Star (our nation’s third highest award for Valor)
  • The Bronze Star for Valor (the fourth highest award)
  • The Purple Heart
  • The Combat Infantryman’s Badge
  • Master Parachutist Badge
  • Drill Sergeant’s Badge
  • Expert Rifle Marksman Badge
  • Numerous other awards and service medals
SFC Howard Lee Early’s Medals
What was so Great about the Great Migration

What was so Great about the Great Migration

What was so Great about the Great Migration

by Anita R. Paul

The Great Migration was the movement of 6 million African Americans out of the South to the Northeast, Midwest and West from 1910-1970.

Ask almost any African American about where their family roots spring from, and you would be hard pressed to find someone whose ancestors didn’t at some point in history leave their footprints in the fertile soil of the American South. Not the romanticized South of Gone with the Wind, but closer to the South exposed in Roots. The South of slavery and sharecropping and segregation. The South that for generations simultaneously depended on and despised blacks. This love/hate relationship developed to such an extent that it created a system of psychological warfare that kept blacks in a state of poverty, whites in a state of fear, and both in a cycle of distrust—until, that is, the onset of one of the most overlooked, underreported, and unprecedented departures of the 20th century—the Great Migration.

This departure of black Americans from the South to points West, Northeast, and Midwest saw over six million leave the increasingly uncomfortable surroundings of their southern homesteads and migrate to the unfamiliar and still uncomfortable environments of cities they had only heard of or read about. What made this migration so great was the sheer number of people who made the decision—individually or collectively—to depart the familiar place of their birth and their entire lives, and set off for unknown lands, albeit within the borders of their own country; a country that, from their experiences, disregarded them except for the necessary function of underpaid and ill-treated labor.

The first wave of the Great Migration took place between 1910 and 1930—with about 1.5 million blacks transitioning from the South. The second wave occurred between 1940 and 1970, when over 5 million left the South to explore employment, education and housing opportunities that eluded them in their southern home states. Blacks left the cow pastures of Texas, the bayous of Louisiana, the dusty grain, corn and cotton fields of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, the lush citrus groves of Florida, and the fertile tobacco fields of the Carolinas for points far and wide and as unfamiliar as a new pair of church shoes.

For Louis Childers, a retired U.S. Air Force Social Work Officer and currently a school social worker with the Atlanta Public Schools, the story of his family’s migration to Ohio is bittersweet. “My great-grandfather died of white lung working in the North Georgia chalk mines, my grandfather was killed as a railroad worker, and my great-grandmother’s brother was lynched by a mob,” explains Childers. His mother, Lila Fletcher, was less than a year old when her family moved from the town of Cartersville in Northwest Georgia to escape not only the violence, but the extreme poverty. The Fletcher family left Georgia in 1920 and headed to the industrial Midwest to make a better life for themselves. They stopped in Toledo, Ohio, where another family member had already put down roots. Shortly thereafter, they moved to Cincinnati, where they eventually settled.

Around the same time, his father’s family, who owned land in Bibb County, Georgia, escaped the South for reasons of their own. “My father’s aunts moved to Ohio because they wanted no part of the hard life of farming,” says Childers. “My father followed them to Cincinnati, while his other seven siblings all migrated to New York and found work as domestics and factory workers.” There was work in slaughterhouses throughout the Midwest and Northeast. Blacks also found employment in the steel, shipbuilding, automobile and meatpacking industries.

To most, the “why” of the Great Migration is obvious; blacks were sick and tired of being sick and tired. They had reached the tipping point where the critical mass agrees, whether consciously or not, that enough is enough. And rather than continue to accept life as it was—constantly adjusting to the whims and wishes of whites, and accepting the mistreatment and abuse of a system designed for their subordination and failure—they simply stopped playing the game and took a chance that what was hidden in the great unknown had to be better than the nightmare of the familiar.

In her highly acclaimed epic, The Warmth of Other Suns, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson depicts how blacks took advantage of a perfect storm that was created by the realities of the time. During the first wave of the Great Migration, a significant number of working-age white males were sent abroad to fight in World War I, creating a labor shortage in the United States. Blacks saw an opportunity to fill the need for workers in the factories and warehouses that had cropped up in the developing industrial age. Those who left the South, often under cover of night, would arrive in these new cities with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, a trunk of their most precious belongings, and their hopes and dreams for a better life.

During the second, larger migration, the call to depart the South came in the form of a flier distributed by the Ford Motor Company advertising factory work paying $5 a day, as well as the seemingly endless job opportunities, the freedom from kowtowing to whites, the ability to send their children to good schools, to develop their own communities, build their own businesses, and define their own futures. After growing up amid the ugliness of life in the South, in which such things as children of sharecropping parents walking to school and passing by trees riddled with the “Strange Fruit”—lynched male bodies—(mentioned in the lyrics of Billie Holiday’s popular song) along the way was common place, many blacks chased the tales of those who had gone before them.

For some, those hopes became true, but for others, the harsh unfairness of segregation followed them and turned their dreams into a new kind of reality. Well-paying jobs aside, blacks often faced a new breed of discrimination they thought they had escaped when leaving the South. Often, the pushback came from new immigrants to the U.S., vying for the same jobs and housing opportunities in the increasingly overcrowded inner-cities. Yet, over the decades that defined the great migration, and in the decades since, African Americans have made enormous strides to find their place in the urban and suburban communities they now define as home.

The outcomes of the Great Migration truly stand as a testament to the greatness of the movement. African Americans fought to chart educational and career paths reaching far beyond what they would have had access to had they remained in the South. They overcame overt and covert resistance to their cultural expression. They established schools, businesses, churches and neighborhoods. And they influenced a nation that, had it not been for the Great Migration, wouldn’t know the many scientific and medical inventions, artistic talents, athletic accomplishments, political advancements, and social improvements all Americans enjoy today. Without a doubt, the impact of the Great Migration reaches deep into the America of today and tomorrow.

Black Facts


  • The Great Migration was the movement of 6 million African Americans out of the South to the Northeast, Midwest and West from 1910-1970.
  • The Vietnam War began in 1955 and did not end until 1975.  Of the 58,193 American soldiers who were killed during that time, 7,264 were African American.
  • The African Diaspora (diaspora meaning any group that has been dispersed outside its traditional homeland voluntarily or involuntarily) are those who can trace their lineage back to Africa.  Though the African Diaspora are dispersed throughout the world, the United States is second only to Brazil when comparing the number of African Diaspora within any one country.

Honoring Our Leaders

Honoring Our Leaders

Honoring Our Leaders, Past & Present

Thank You Dr. King! Thank You President Obama!

As a nation we celebrate and commemorate significant anniversaries this year of 2 separate, but linked, events that forever changed our nation: the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of The Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, where hundreds of thousands of Americans marched to the memorial of Abraham Lincoln, the author of the Emancipation Proclamation. It was at the March on Washington that Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his most famous speech, “I Have A Dream”, to blacks and whites, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, all of whom had joined together in the march to further the pursuit of equality of citizenship and self-determination.


The year was 1963 and the climate of the nation was one of change. There were those that were pushing for it and those that were fighting against it, as there always is when “change to the status quo” is involved. What were they looking to change? They were looking for fair and equal treatment in the area of civil rights. There was a demand for the nation to view all of its citizens, irrespective of their race, color, gender or religion, as equals and to be treated as such in all areas of life.

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and in commemoration of “The March on Washington”, which has been noted as the largest non-violent political rally for human rights in the history of the United States and the event at which Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have Dream” speech, hundreds of thousands of people in cities and communities across the nation gather on the third Monday of January and participate in organized marches. In recent years San Antonio, TX has become the largest of these marches. In 2012 the San Antonio March had an estimated 150,000 participants. This is only 25% fewer participants than the estimated 200,000 that marched to the Lincoln Memorial in the National March on Washington on August 28, 1963 that it commemorates.


A stronger showing each year of support and participation in the marches across the country indicate growing recognition for the need for our nation to continue down the path to achieving the dream as set out by Dr. King and to continue to move forward in the fight for equality and social justice.

“The Most Persistent and Urgent Question Is, What Are You Doing for Others?” ~~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A common thread that you will find through out the messages given, and the life lived, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is the importance of doing for others.  He was a firm believer that by helping others we also help ourselves.  By improving the community we live in we make our own life experiences better.  By having “Unity in the Community,” we create a life of harmony and we accomplish shared goals more effectively and efficiently than we do if there is no unity among those seeking improvement and change.

With this in mind, it is not hard to see why the name of the federal holiday honoring Dr. King eventually incorporated “The National Day of Service.”  Since that time many states and local communities have adopted not only the one day, but some up to as much as two weeks with community activities organized, staffed and participated in by volunteers seeking to improve their communities and the lives of others in a number of ways.  Almost all of them, whether they have a single day or 2 weeks, include at least one project geared towards improving schools, increasing education, and mentoring youth. Another popular project that you will find on almost every roster is a project to improve and beautify the community in the hopes of encouraging those that live in the community to take pride in it.

No matter where you live you can rest assured that there is an opportunity for you to share in the opportunity to help others and to improve your community.  Go to almost any community calendar and you will find a multitude of options.  So, be part of the “unity in the community” and get involved!

1st African American Female Fighter Pilot USAF

1st African American Female Fighter Pilot USAF

1st African American Female Fighter Pilot USAF

By: SrA Justin Weaver, Courtesy of 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Photos By: A1C Ashley Wood

The Parker, Colorado native initially wanted to be an astronaut, but decided it would be more fun to fly a fighter jet. “I fell in love with the idea of the freedom of flying and after my first flight lesson at age 14, I never looked back,” said Major Kimbrell, who is currently the flight commander of Aircrew Flight Equipment. It was that determination which led Major Kimbrell to become the first female African-American fighter pilot in the Air Force.

“I am still amazed that in this day and age there is still so much room for firsts especially for females and for African-Americans,” Major Kimbrell said. “It is an important step for progression and although I am not fond of the spotlight I think it is important for people to know that this barrier has been breeched, especially for the African-American community and for women to know what types of opportunities are available to them.” Up until only 15 years ago, piloting a multi-million dollar, multi-role F-16 combat aircraft was reserved solely for men.

“While most fourth grade girls talk about being a ballerina, veterinarian, doctor, or princess, Shawna Rochelle Kimbrell knew she wanted to take to the skies.”

SrA Justin Weaver


Then, in 1993, the Secretary of Defense permitted women to enter fighter pilot training. Although women have been entering pilot training since 1976, before 1993, government officials did not believe women had “what it took” for combat. Major Kimbrell knew she “had what it took” and after graduating from the Air Force Academy in 1998, she went on to complete intense pilot training receiving her pilot wings in August, 1999. “Pilot training was one of the best times in my life and I made some life-long friendships,” Major Kimbrell said.

“For two years, every move you make is graded and scrutinized.” Eager to make it as a fighter pilot in a field with a limited number of pilot slots Major Kimbrell pushed herself to constantly improve. “I was in constant competition with myself, trying to do better, to make the grade,” she said. “There were times when I didn’t think that I was going to make it through. It was in those times I learned to be humble and realize there is a point in everyone’s struggle – no matter how strong they are — when they need help, and the key is to seek it out before it is too late.”

There are more than 14,000 pilots in the U.S. Air Force — about 3,700 of those are fighter pilots. But in that group, only 70 are women. Pursuing a career in a male-dominated field was just one of several challenges Major Kimbrell had to overcome. “I was never apprehensive about pursuing my dream, despite the challenges,” said Major Kimbrell. “I don’t think that I actually grasped how few of us there were. Honestly it was not something that I had time to concern myself with. There was the physical challenge of not having perfect eyesight, which at one point I was told would disqualify me from flying. There are continued challenges with flight gear, uniforms, and equipment that are designed and optimized for men.”

Another challenge Major Kimbrell faced throughout her career and growing up was the struggle of being an African-American woman, who at times was viewed as being different than other people. “There are still a lot of unresolved racial issues in the U.S. and they spill over into every walk of life and every workspace,” said Major Kimbrell, the only female pilot stationed at Aviano Air Base.

“When I go somewhere new, people tend to look at me differently, mostly because of who I am and it is the subtle ways that people treat me differently that make it challenging. The unfortunate fact is that being a black woman is a constant struggle.”Dealing with that bias, whether malicious or not, has caused Major Kimbrell to try even harder to succeed in life. “I have made it to this point in my life by setting goals and being determined to meet them no matter how long it takes,” she said.

“At the end of the day, if I have put forth the maximum effort, I can live with myself and that is one of the most important parts of this struggle.” Throttling through those challenges became worthwhile when Major Kimbrell received her first operational assignment to Misawa Air Base, Japan. “The turning point in my career was when I arrived at Misawa. It was like a whole new world of options opened up to me,” she said. “I flew my first combat sortie in 2001 in Operation Northern Watch. The sorties were actually anticlimactic until I recognized that people were actually shooting at us.”

The most recent and as yet unresolved challenge is how having a baby and raising a family fits in with her career progression. “The real turning point in my life was when I gave birth to my son in August of 2006,” she said. “On that day my life took on an amazing new meaning.” Making the decision to have a baby could have been career-ending for Major Kimbrell. For safety reasons, women pilots can no longer fly once they become pregnant. They are kept out of the cockpit for nine months, plus recovery time.

“When a pilot is out of the jet for that amount of time a significant amount of retraining is required and it normally takes place outside of the squadron, back at the school house,” said Major Kimbrell. “This has the potential to be detrimental to a woman’s progression and continues to be a challenge for myself and other women fighter pilots.” Finding that balance between career and family is something Major Kimbrell strives for, and she credits the lessons she’s learned from both aspects as defining who she is.

“While being a fighter pilot is exhilarating, I would not say that it defines me, I would say that is has refined me. I continue to learn and improve and it has really taught me to strive for perfection in everything that I do. It has taught me that sometimes you fall short of your goals but there is never a time to give up.”


Female fighter pilots in the military have recently created a Website to help bring together and strengthen the camaraderie of women pilots. The “Chick Fighter Pilot Association,”, has three goals: Encourage and strengthen mutual support in our unique environment, help each other succeed, and provide a professional and social network for women in fighter roles. “It is very important that we have an open line of communication among the women of this community because there are certain daily challenges that we face that should not have to be tackled by each of us separately,” said Major Kimbrell.

Major Kimbrell has flown the F-16, T-38, T-37 and T-3 and has logged more than 945 flying hours in the F-16, including 176 combat hours. Her military decorations include the Air Medal with one device, Aerial Achievement Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal with one device, Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the Korean Defense Service Medal.

Black Facts!

Black Facts!

Black Facts!

Black Congressmen During the Reconstruction Era
  • (pictured) Between 1870 and 1902, 22 African Americans served in Congress: 2 Senators & 20 Representatives all of which were from the South. Left to Right: Sen. Hiram Revels, Rep. Benjamin Turner, Rep. Robert De Large, Rep. Josiah T. Walker, Rep. Jefferson Long, Rep. Joseph M. Rainy and Rep. R. Brown Elliott.
  • The Great Migration was the movement of 6 million African Americans out of southern states to northeast, mid-west and west from 1910-1970.
  • The Vietnam War began in 1955 and did not end until 1975. Of the 58,193 American Soldiers who were killed during that time, 7,264 were African American.
  • The African Diaspora (diaspora meaning any group that has been dispersed outside its traditional homeland voluntarily or involuntarily) are those who can trace their lineage back to Africa. Though the African Diaspora are dispersed throughout the world, the United States is second only to Brazil when comparing the number of African Diaspora within any one country.
  • The Central Branch Home located in Dayton, Ohio (now known as Dayton VAMC) was the first to admit African Americans after the Civil War. Veterans of the U.S. Colored Troops were admitted in March 1867; several of them were former slaves.
  • The first government hospital established exclusively for African American Veterans was Tuskegee VA Hospital in Alabama. Originally known as the “Hospital for Sick and Injured Colored World War Veterans,” it operated as an all-black Veteran’s hospital for 31 years–from its opening on Feb. 12, 1923 until it was desegregated by the VA in 1954.
  • Dr. Howard W. Kearney became the first African-American director to integrate leadership at VA hospitals (excludes Tuskegee). Dr. Kearney became the VA hospital director at East Orange, N.J., July 1962. He had been director at the Tuskegee VA hospital since 1959 prior to his assignment to East Orange.
  • Vernice Ferguson was the first African-American director of VA’s Nursing Service. The status of the nursing service improved with the elevation of Ferguson to the new position of deputy assistant chief medical director for nursing programs in 1980.
  • There are two VA Medical Centers named after African Americans: The Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago was named after Jesse Brown, a Vietnam War Veteran appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve as VA’s Secretary; he served from 1993-1997. Secretary Brown was also the first African American to serve as VA Secretary.
  • The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, S.C., was named for Marine Corps Pvt. Ralph H. Johnson, who was killed in action during the Vietnam War and awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
  • The nation’s first full-figure, “in-the-round” (360 degrees) monument to honor Civil War U.S. Colored Troops is located at the Nashville National Cemetery in Tennessee. The monument was dedicated in 2006 to the United States Colored Troops who fought in the Civil War. 1,447 known and 463 colored soldiers are buried at Nashville.
  • Memphis National Cemetery has the most U.S. Colored Troops burials at approximately 4,209; followed by Natchez (2,200) and Nashville (1,910).
  • Fort Scott National Cemetery — A granite monument was erected in 1984 in memory of the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry. The soldiers were stationed at Fort Scott during the Civil War.
  • Barrancas National Cemetery (Florida) — Sections 1 through 12 contain the remains of Civil War casualties and include: U.S. Colored Troops, known: 154, unknown: 98
  • Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery — In 1939, the remains of 175 officers and soldiers of the 56th U.S. Colored Troops Infantry were removed from a cemetery at the former Koch Quarantine Hospital in St. Louis, and re-interred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.  The men died of cholera in August 1866. The monument to the 56th U.S. Colored Troops was moved from its original location at Koch hospital and re-erected with a new sandstone base, new dowels, and a new plaque. The monument was dedicated in May 19, 1939. (Section 57, Grave 15009)
  • Beaufort National Cemetery — Nineteen Union Soldiers of the all black Massachusetts 54th and 55th Infantry were removed from Folly Island, S.C., and re-interred at Beaufort National Cemetery in S.C., with full military honors on Memorial Day, May 29, 1989

Medal of Honor Recipients at Beaufort National Cemetery

  • Private First Class Ralph H. Johnson, (Vietnam War) Company A, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division (Rein), FMF. Near Quan DucValley, Republic of Vietnam, March 5, 1968, (Section 3, Grave 21).
  • Master Sergeant Joseph Simmons, 25th Infantry Buffalo Soldiers, World War I and II, fought on three fronts in France, and was awarded the Legion of Honor Medal by the Republic of France (The French Legion of Honor Medal is equivalent to the United States Medal of Honor), died Sept. 24, 1999 (21 days prior to his 100th birthday). He is buried in Section 2, Grave 2.
Publisher’s Note on Veterans Day

Publisher’s Note on Veterans Day

Publisher’s Note on Veterans Day

Alvin Fagan
Publisher, Our Heritage Magazine

With the coming of Veterans Day, many images and memories are brought to mind, especially for those who have worn the uniform of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard. While Veterans Day is a federal holiday that is intended to honor and thank all who served in the United States Armed Forces, it also has a multitude of meanings to us as individuals. For some, it is a day to remember a loved one’s service to our country. For others, it is a day to commemorate and honor fallen comrades. For us here at Our Heritage, it is an opportunity to pay tribute to those African-Americans who served their country throughout its long military history.

Our African-American soldiers have an impressive resumé that dates back as far as our country’s birth. During the Revolutionary War, approximately 9,000 freemen and slaves fought valiantly against the British. African-Americans, many of them escaped slaves, made up fifteen percent of the naval corps during the War of 1812. Four black regiments served in the Spanish-American War. During the Civil War, black leaders such as Frederick Douglass encouraged black men to become soldiers to ensure their eventual full citizenship; by the end of the war, roughly 179,000 black men served as soldiers in the U.S. Army and another 19,000 served in the Navy. World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Gulf Wars—black soldiers fought, and died, in all of them.

Purple Heart

This resumé of enduring service is lacking in one area, however. In the space designated for medals, awards, and recognition for achievement and valor, it is decidedly sparse. While every soldier that has served our country honorably from its inception holds a place of honor in our hearts and minds, we will be spotlighting those who for so many years, decades, and even centuries, remained unsung heroes. They gave their best, and many gave all, to establish and protect this country. At a time in which slavery, then segregation, was a cruel fact of life, these soldiers displayed a true strength of character—volunteering their own lives to protect a nation that didn’t consider them as full and equal citizens. At the end of World War II, no African-American who deserved the Medal of Honor for his service received it. These soldiers were denied recognition not because they lacked outstanding accomplishments, but because of racism.

A Debt of Honor– 50 years past Due to the Men of the 761st Tank Battalion
(U.S. Army photo courtesy of the Patton Museum, Fort Knox, KY)

Some 50 years later in 1997, a part of this injustice was redressed when President Clinton presented the Medal of Honor to Vernon Baker during White House ceremonies honoring seven African-American World War II veterans. (Sadly, Baker was the only one still alive.) The others honored posthumously were Staff Sgt. Edward A. Carter Jr., 1st Lt. John R. Fox, Pfc. Willy F. James Jr., Staff Sgt. Ruben Rivers, 1st Lt. Charles L. Thomas and Pvt. George Watson. While these men eventually received the recognition they deserved, there are still many unsung heroes and countless stories of the heroic acts of black soldiers that served in all of our country’s wars and conflicts that remain untold. We will endeavor to remember these soldiers, and inspire you with their stories.

What is Heritage?

What is Heritage?

Heritage is…


Who We Are, What We Bring to the World,
and Where We Came From.

Who We Are

We are the sum total of all the people who share our blood line – we have some of the same genes which give us some of the same characteristics and traits. Maybe we are as tall as Great-Uncle Jasper or maybe our hair turned gray at 30 like Grandma Susie. We are also a copy of everyone who has been part of our upbringing – we may like rice and red-eye gravy because it was Mom’s favorite dish to make – we may sound just like Dad on the phone or be a perfectionist like he was – we may be a “spitting image” of Great-Grandpa Jones or Aunt Hattie or we may just act like them. Who we are is a conglomeration of the people we are born and/or raised with and the things we learn along the way that make us unique while still identifying us by our family heritage.

What is Heritage

What We Bring to the World

Our contributions to the world around us are part of the culture in which we grew up, the experiences we had along the way, and the unique spin we put on these pieces of our heritage. We may be doctors because we grew up in a poor neighborhood where children were always sick and we wanted to bring healing to the world around us. We may be teachers because we were inspired by a great teacher who taught us to grab everything school and life have to offer and to never quit learning new things. We may be hard workers because we want desperately to be successful so our children will have opportunities we did not have.

We may be struggling alcoholics because we were raised in an environment where alcoholism and other addictions were accepted as the norm; we may be reformed addicts because we were raised in an environment where alcoholism and other addictions were destructive.

What we bring to the world around us is a mixture of all of the influences around us as our personalities were formed as well as all of the life situations we encountered, lived in, and either embraced or overcame.

Signs of the Times

Where We Came From

Heritage is our past, our traditions, our customs, our way of life, that have been passed down through generations upon generations. We may be part of a community where a certain type of Southern cooking, holidays, and traditions such as Mardi Gras, which were brought to this country from across the ocean and now identify us as “Cajun.”

We may be very strict religious people who drive buggies instead of cars because of the simple traditions that were brought to this country many years ago and which now identify us as “Amish.” We may be part of a community where strong family ties are as important as personal freedom because we are descendants of a race of people who lost both and have spent generations struggling to regain them. Where all that came from defines us as a race, a creed, a nationality, a family, even as an individual.

The Heritage of a people is their birthright, traditions, customs, physical attributes, upbringing, attitudes, and a way of life that has been transmitted from the past, through the generations, to a people who embrace that legacy and take it on as their own.


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