By Danny Priest
Roscoe Brown’s qualifications were remarkable.
A member of the 100th Fighter Squadron in the 332nd Fighter Group, Brown shot down an advanced German Me 262 jet fighter, as well as a FW-190 fighter during battle in WWII.
He is credited as the first pilot to shoot down a jet during his 68 total combat missions in the war.
His efforts would see him be promoted to squadron commander of the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group, or as they are more commonly known, the Tuskegee Airmen.
The group led escort missions during bombing raids in Berlin, Germany.
The P-51 planes they flew had distinct red markings on the tails which affectionately garnered them the nickname of “Red Tails.”
The Red Tails often protected bombers during the war and they represented a sign of strength and security. Little did the white bombers know that the men flying in the Red Tails were all African Americans.
In total, the group is credited with downing 111 enemy aircrafts in flight and another 150 on the ground. By the time Brown left the military in 1945, he had been awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal for his efforts.
Even prior to his war declarations, Brown was a standout. Before he was training at Keesler Field in Biloxi, Mississippi or the Tuskegee Institute and Army Air Base in Tuskegee, Alabama he was shining his skills at 263 Alden Street in Springfield, Mass.
Brown was Valedictorian of the 1943 class at Springfield College, where he received a Bachelor’s Degree after majoring in pre-medical, chemistry and health physical education.
By the time 1945 rolled around, Brown had numerous awards and high educational distinction to his name.
He decided to continue to pursue his passion for flying and submitted a pilot’s application to Eastern Airlines in New York City.
As mentioned – his qualifications and resume should have been more than enough to garner that job.
After Brown had given his application to the receptionist, he began to leave the area and move on with his day. Before he got far, Brown came to the realization that he had left his newspaper behind and he proceeded back towards the reception desk to grab it and continue on.
Brown, a military legend just two years removed from college and a man who was not deterred by racism that existed in full force at the time, returned to the desk to see his application balled up and thrown into the trash.
The receptionist told him plain and simple: “Sorry, we don’t accept Negro applications for pilots here.”
A lifetime of education
Despite a resume and accomplishments better than anyone else who could apply for the position, Brown was denied because of the color of his skin.
The moment did not deter Brown and he would carry on living one of the most successful and impactful lives of any graduate in the history of Springfield College.
Richard Griffin first met Roscoe Brown in 1969. It was the same year the takeover of the Administration building occurred on the Springfield campus.
Griffin, a first-year student at the time, was born and raised in East Harlem, N.Y. – an area where the impact of Roscoe Brown was plentiful, yet Griffin had not known who he was.
At the urging of a staff member in the Alumni Office, Griffin helped organize to invite Brown to campus as a guest speaker for a dinner Black students wanted to turn into an annual event.
Upon reading up on Brown and meeting him in person, it did not take long for Griffin to see what type of man he was.
“He spoke clearly, he looked you in the eyes when he spoke to you, and he was ongoing offering words of encouragement and also trying to find out more about you, the person,” Griffin said.
“He was encouraging to us as students, he spoke about our rich history as African American students in America, and he stated that we should always set high goals for ourselves and work hard towards our goals and continue to be disciplined.”
By that time when Brown was returning to the Springfield College campus, he had earned two more degrees and embarked on a career that focused on benefiting others.
Brown earned a Master’s Degree from New York University in 1949 and a Doctorate in 1951. From 1950 to 1977, Brown served as a Professor of Education at New York University and the Director of the Institute of Afro-American affairs.
Following that role, Brown would move on to become the President of Bronx Community College as part of the City University of New York (CUNY) and remained in that position until 1993.
In addition to those roles, Brown served the Boys and Girls Clubs of America for over 30 years, he was active within the Jackie Robinson Foundation and Libraries for the Future, he hosted a television program entitled “African American Legends” and he was a contributor to numerous books.
Throughout his life and all of his jobs, Brown was committed to two things: helping people, especially young folks, recognize the importance of education, and battling racism.
Don Brown attended Springfield College from 1965 to 1969 and is a native of the Bronx, N.Y. He first met Dr. Roscoe Brown in 1990 when he was working for Boston College and creating an initiative called “Concerned Black Men.”
That program was similar to the “One Hundred Black Men” organization that Roscoe Brown had a hand in back in New York. Both groups aimed to improve the quality of life for African American males.
Don Brown reached out to Roscoe Brown and asked him if he would be willing to come to Boston and talk a bit about his program and what made it successful.
“This gentleman didn’t think twice about it. I’ve been trying to remember if we paid for him to come to Boston, I don’t think that we did, but he didn’t blink an eye and said ‘Yes, I want to come to share what it is we’re doing in New York for African American males, beginning as early as elementary school,’” Don Brown recalled.
That was just the type of person Roscoe Brown was. A man who never hesitated to help others and embodied everything about the philosophy of Springfield College.
“More than anybody that I can think of, Dr. Brown, this Alum of Springfield College that proceeded me by 40-years or so, epitomized service and leadership,” Don Brown said.
Prior to becoming Valedictorian at Springfield College, Brown had attended Dunbar High School in Washington D.C. with a predominantly Black student population.
He seamlessly transitioned to a nearly all white student population at Springfield and not only settled in, but stood out as the top student in his class.
“All of these things came together and when I think about spirit, I think about an indomitable spirt – nothing could stop Dr. Roscoe Brown. Nothing could stop him. He was a man on a mission to affect, change and improve the quality of life in the African American community with a particular focus on young people,” said Don Brown.
“In the case of Dr. Roscoe Brown, he made an imprint by what he said and by the example he had been setting which was all throughout his adult life as I know him. Humility is something… in other words, he wasn’t a braggart person, humility is the word I would use. Along with goal setter,” added Griffin.
In 1992, Springfield College honored Roscoe Brown with an honorary degree of Humanics due to the way in which he demonstrated a commitment towards the Humanics philosophy in his professional life.
Up until his death on July 2, 2016, Roscoe Brown continued to pave the way for a brighter future for Black people in America.
“He was a hero. In all that he accomplished in terms of education, this was no ordinary man,” Don Brown said.
He pointed to recent developments such as Lloyd Austin being the first Black man to serve as Pentagon chief as a credit to the purpose Roscoe Brown saved in his life.
“That didn’t happen by accident, that happened as the result of efforts by Roscoe Brown. They opened up, they came back and they fought in their various ways [against] segregation. They became active in the movement, along with Dr. Martin Luther King and others in opening doors – that’s what they did.”
Dr. Roscoe Brown was a lot of things in his life.
A role model.
Above all else, he wanted the best for others and he left the world a better place than when he came into it.
“Up to the time of his death, he never gave up. I think that if you interview people in Harlem, what they would say is that Dr. Roscoe Brown was a mentor to many that he served,” said Don Brown.
Locally or nationally, Roscoe Brown touched the lives of many and created a brighter future for generations to come.