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Chauncey Spencer

" I'm no paragon of virtue;
I've lived like other men. But I
know what is evil and what is
illegal and what is
unacceptable for good
human relations."
~ Chauncey Spencer
17 May 1993

November 5
Chauncey Spencer
*Chauncey Spencer was born on this date in 1906. He was an African-American pilot, and educator.

From Lynchburg, Virginia, he was one of three children of Edward Spencer and noted Harlem Renaissance poet Anne Spencer. One of the most respected families in Lynchburg, visitors to the Spencer home included George Washington Carver, Paul Robeson, James Weldon Johnson, Walter White, Clarence Muse, Dean Pickens, Adam Clayton Powell, Langston Hughes, Thurgood Marshall, and W.E.B. Dubois.

At the age of eleven, he fell in love with flying, yet after graduating from college, no aviation school in Virginia would admit him because of his color. Spencer moved to Chicago in 1934 and joined with a group of African American aviators in organizing the National Airmen Association of America (NAAA). Working for $16-a-week as a kitchen helper he paid $11 an hour for flying lessons.

In May 1939, he and fellow aviator Dale Lawrence White, also an NAAA member, flew a rented Lincoln-Paige biplane with only two flight instruments on a ten city tour that started in Chicago and ended in Washington, DC. Realizing that war in Europe was imminent, they demonstrated the aviation abilities of "Negroes" and lobbied Congress to include people of color in the Civilian Pilot Training Program for the Army Air Corps. Their flight drew national attention and proved that African Americans could fly an airplane contrary to the beliefs and opinions of most Army Air Corps and government leaders.

They met with Harry Truman and others in Congress, convincing them to support their cause. Later, while employed by the Army, Spencer worked with Judge William H. Hastie to encourage fair treatment of African American air cadets being trained at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and other air bases during World War II. He encountered considerable resistance from whites as well as blacks as the Civilian Personnel Employee Relations Officer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. Despite this, he persisted and made steady progress towards integration of the Air Force. In 1948, Spencer received the Exceptional Civilian Service Award for service during World War II, the highest honor the Air Force could bestow upon a civilian.


In 1953, the United States Air Force referred to his role in the integration of the military as "unique though strangely unsung." However, his refusal to drag his feet on integration created resentment among highly-placed officials who wished to see integration fail. Consequently, in 1953 Spencer was charged with disloyalty and accused of being a Communist. He was relieved of his position and his family suffered great humiliation and economic deprivation. In June 1954 the Air Force cleared him of all charges. Spencer and his family would never fully recover from this ordeal.

Despite ill-treatment, he continued to maintain his belief in the goodness and strength of mankind and America until his death on August 21, 2002.

Reference:
Chauncey E. Spencer II,
2nd Vice President Central Region,
Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.,
2510 Fullerton,
Detroit, Michigan. 48238,
(313) 865-1591

 

 

Chauncey Spencer

Chauncey Spencer

Dale White and Chauncey Spencer

Dale and Chauncey

Chauncey, Lady Bird Johnson, Linda Robb

Chauncey, Lady Bird Johnson, Linda Robb, Edward Spencer

Lady Bird, Linda, Chauncey

Chauncey Spencer and Friends

Lady Bird Johnson, Linda Robb, Chauncey

 

 

 

Presidential Inauguration 2009

 

Date: Saturday, December 27, 2008, 9:10 AM

Letter to The Washington Post

 

By Darrell Laurant



Published: December 26, 2008

 

Chauncey Spencer II has an issue with the committee orchestrating next month’s presidential inauguration.

 

“It’s not a big issue, maybe, but it is an issue,” said Spencer, the son of Lynchburg-raised pioneer aviator and civil rights leader Chauncey Spencer, and grandson of poet Anne Spencer, “especially given the historic nature of this inauguration.”

 

Since Barack Obama is the son of a black Kenyan father and a white American mother, making him the first African-American U.S. president, there will be a definite civil rights subtext to his Jan. 20 swearing-in ceremony.

 

And Spencer, who now lives in Detroit but was in Lynchburg this week, believes that the National Airmen Association of America (an organization of black aviators of which his father was a charter member) should be included and recognized.

 

“All the living members of the Tuskegee Airmen have been invited, and that’s as it should be,” Spencer said. “But it was the National Airmen Association that paved the way for the Tuskegee Airmen.”

 

Or paved the runway. For it was a May 1939 flight from Chicago to Washington by Spencer’s father and fellow black aviator Dale White that resulted in a chance meeting with then-Sen. Harry S Truman and the eventual integration of the Army Air Corps.

 

Spencer and White were on their way to lobby members of Congress on that issue, accompanied by National Airmen Association lobbyist Edgar Brown, when they encountered Truman on a street corner. He seemed surprised when they told him the Air Corps was open only to whites, and asked to see their airplane at small nearby airport.

 

“If you had the guts to fly this thing here from Chicago,” Truman supposedly said after viewing the rickety, open-cockpit Lincoln-Paige bi-plane, “I’ve got the guts to back you for inclusion into the Army Air Corps.”

 

White and Spencer invited Truman to take a ride in their plane. The Missouri Senator declined.

 

The elder Spencer was 37 years old when the Tuskegee Airmen were formed, eight years above the age cutoff for fighter pilots. Instead, he served at the Tuskegee University pilot training site in Alabama as an instructor and mechanic.

 

“He was suspended at one point because he refused to obey an officer who told him, ‘Boy, take this broom and go sweep the hangar,’” Spencer II said. “He said, ‘No; I’m a flyer.’”

 

That was typical of the feisty Spencer, who died in 2002 at the age of 96.

 

“He didn’t believe in dragging feet when it came to integration,” said Spencer II, one of four surviving children of Chauncey and Ann Spencer, “and he suffered for that. In the 1950s, he was branded a Communist and had trouble getting a job for two years.”

 

Spencer II would like to represent his father and the National Airmen Association in Washington on Jan. 20, despite the inconvenience that would entail.

 

“If I’m going to have any hope of finding a room,” he said, “I need to start working on it now.”

 

He has already received a rejection letter from Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, and has e-mailed Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, chairwoman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

 

“She (Feinstein) hasn’t gotten back to me,” Spencer said. “I know they’re really busy and it’s hectic for them, but this is a time to celebrate and recognize history.

 

“There were a lot of Martin Luther King’s — people like my father. I will never let his name die, and this is one way to keep it alive.”

 

 

REQUIEM FOR A PATRIOT

 

An Honorable Poetic Tribute in Memory of

 

CHAUNCEY EDWARD SPENCER

 

By L. Garnell Stamps

Friday, August 23 2002

 

 Chauncey Spencer

 

 Dedicated To Mrs. Ann Spencer

Wife of an American Hero

And

Daughter-in-Law of a Great American Poet

Sunday, September 2, 2002

Eighth Street Baptist Church

 

Requiem for a Patriot

By L. Garnell Stamps

 

Earth: Receive your honored guest;

Chauncey Spencer’s laid to rest,

As his booming voice foretold.

He was ninety-five years old.

 

Husband, Father, Airman, Friend,

He was Chauncey till the end.

Call him forward, call him back,

Just don't ever call him black!

 

“We’re All Americans!” he would say,

“And there’s no other way!

Color simply plays no part!”

Chauncey roared with all his heart.

 

That’s one hang-up Chauncey had;

Call him black and make him mad.

“Underneath we're all the same,

Call me simply by my name.”

 

Chauncey Edward Spencer – Man!

Neither Black...nor Brown...nor Tan,

Nothing more - and nothing less,

That - for him - should be the test.

 

In the poems your mother wrote,

She said “Black," I'd often note.

Chauncey then would grunt and stare

With his enigmatic glare.

 

It was not he was ashamed;

Just do not call him by that name.

Prod...and scold...to make him flinch,

Chauncey would not give an inch!

 

Wave the banner long and high,

Just one color till you die!

Chauncey, who was slightly deaf,

Sometimes argued by himself.

 

Even when you’d turn him off,

He would rant...and rage...and cough,

“Leave the color thing alone!

And don't call me on the phone!”

 

So laugh and shed your joyous tears;

Chauncey lived a hundred years;

Set forever in his ways,

Needing no one else's praise.

 

Chances are...he went up there,

Driving angels to despair.

Satan spurned him down below,

Where he'd surely steal the show.

 

See him at the Pearly Gates,

Telling why he got there late.

Even God was prone to smile,

Guiding Chauncey down the isle.

 

When he found his wings were Black,

Chauncey had a heart attack

But they don't have those things up there,

High above the mystic air!

 

Finally he settled down,

Awed before the Glory Crown;

But once more he had a shock,

When he saw the angel flock

 

Some were Brown…and some were Red;

O the swimming in his head!

Some were White...and some were Tan...

And some the color of my hand!

 

He approached the Throne of Grace

And asked Saint Peter - face to face -

“Is the gang of six up here?

If they are...I'll shed a tear!”

 

Thornhill...Mangum...Haskins...Stamps

Robinson...Johnson - they gave me cramps!

Liberal this, and liberal that;

Please don't show them where I’m at."

 

“Glory  seekers one and all,

Bragging that they're standing tall.”

Did he hate us? No indeed!

It was just our racial creed.

 

He said we complained too much -

That we lacked the common touch!

He could never understand

Demonstrations hand-in-hand.

 

Nor would he explain to us

Why he loved Falwell so much.

“Race divides,” Old Chauncey said,

“Like the hair upon my head...”

 

“One great flag to serve us all,”

Was his firm and final call.

“What is Africa to me,

But a land across the sea...”

 

“And the ships...and whips and slaves?

Distant echoes from the grave.”

O, If only he could see

Troops of Black men...just like me!

 

Born to break the yoke in part

And expose the human heart,

Born to fight to set us free

In this land of liberty.

 

Thus the Black...and Red...and Green

Say exactly what we mean.

What we live for, so did he;

And I guess we'll let it be.

 

One day, not too long ago,

I heard Chauncey tell me so:

We'll agree to disagree,

And we'll do so decently…

 

Garnell, argue front and back;

Just don't tell me that you're Black!

Since he's crossed the great eons,

Let him fuss with Vernon Johns.

 

Carol Ann, Luann and Shaun,

I don't mean a bit of harm.

Mrs. Spencer, Mike, and Kyle,

I would walk a hundred miles...

 

For your father and his deeds.

For his wants and for his needs.

Chauncey Junior, you should know

That opinions come and go.

 

All the while, we made amends

And remained the best of friends!

In the crowded ways we go,

Who is right? We'll never know.

 

So earth, receive your honored guest;

Chauncey Spencer's laid to rest.

If I dare say, yes, I'm Black.

Watch out, world! - He’s coming back.

 

 

 

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