Great Moments in Black History — George Brown and The Tuskegee Airmen: Branded with a "K"

George Brown, one of the first black elected lieutenant governors in America, claimed he was branded with a “K” by a white racist in Alabama when his plane crashed while training to be a Tuskegee Airmen…

George Brown is a name most people have forgotten. Though he was one of the first blacks elected to a lieutenant governorship in America (Colorado, 1975), Brown was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II, a feat which places him among the greatest aviators in history and, more importantly, part of the warrior Red Tails who defeated the Axis Powers by themselves.

But it was speech he gave at the Lieutenant Governor’s Conference in Point Clear, Alabama that will forever cast a haunting shadow on the actual tales of those lauded Red Tails. From George Derek Musgrove’s Rumor, Repression, and Racial Politics: How the Harassment of Black Elected Officials Shaped Post-Civil Rights America, we learn about a ‘branding’ incident that happened in the dark woods of backward 1940s Alabama:
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At the gathering, he delivered an impassioned speech on the topic of his relationship to Alabama and contemporary race relations. Although he had trained in Alabama during World War II as a Tuskegee Airmen, he had not returned since. His reluctance stemmed from a crash during a 1943 training exercise. In the crash, Brown claimed, he was knocked unconscious and discovered by a white farmer. Rather than help the young pilot, this alleged member of the Ku Klux Klan, chained, beat, and branded Brown on the chest with a K. In a dramatic flourish, Brown ripped open his shirt exposing a keloid “K”: proof, he claimed, of the alleged assault. Brown then stated that his ability to return to Alabama as the lieutenant governor of Colorado showed how far the country had come in the past three decades. The speech electrified the conference. Soon after Brown stepped from the podium, the assembly elected him vice chairman. (p. 73)

Great story complete with the all the essentials required to induce the greatest amount of “white guilt” from whoever come in contact with the tale of just another Alabama bigot standing in the way of progress.
But, none of George Brown’s story was true:

The following day, reporters from the Denver Post began to check Brown’s facts. Brown had worked at the Post for fourteen years, and no one in the newsroom could recall him having told such a story. Under scrutiny, the lieutenant governor’s tale began to unravel. Brown had been branded not by a white farmer in Alabama during World War II but by his Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity brothers, at his own request, in college. The revelation created a media firestorm in Colorado. Backtracking in the face of criticism, Brown claimed that his words were misconstrued, that he had mistakenly conflated a story of his having been beaten with that of another pilot who had been branded.

“The incidents I referred to were correct,” Brown stated to reporters. “I told of an incident of a cadet who was branded. I told a personal incident of how I was badly beaten.”

He apologized if “there was any merging [of the stories], either actual or implied.” Brown’s mea culpa may have ended the controversy if it were true, but it was not. Though several had been threatened and insulted, no Tuskegee Airmen was ever branded in Alabama during World War II.

Though he did not say so at the time, in a 2002 interview with the author Brown admitted that the branding story was a rumor that circulated among black Army Air Corps cadets stationed in Alabama. “I heard it,” Brown said. “I didn’t know whether it was true or false.” (p. 73-74)

So, Mr. Brown – the first black lieutenant governor of Colorado –tried to pass it off as a factual event, one that happened to him, in order to gain sympathy from his white lieutenant governors.

None of it was true.  The “K” branded on his black skin was from a voluntary act he willingly participated in…
It’s a story like that of Mr. Brown and his ‘branded with a ‘K’” tale that makes you question the whole Tuskegee Airmen narrative.
And this has been another great moment in black history.


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One Response to Great Moments in Black History — George Brown and The Tuskegee Airmen: Branded with a "K"

  1. Pat Hines says:

    I wish my father were alive to read this. I father was a P-38 Lightning pilot in the European theater, flying 65 combat missions in an unarmed, photo reconnaissance version of that aircraft.

    My father never heard of the “Tuskegee Airmen”, ever. If anyone had challenged him on this, he had plenty of fellow pilots who were still alive back in the ’60s,’70s, and ’80s would have happily backed him up. Before my father went to Europe, he was an instructor pilot at Kelly Army Air Field, outside San Antonio. Dad had been in training at a number of air fields all across the midwest and southwest, yet somehow this group of black pilots managed to be trained completely unnoticed by either him or any of his follow pilots.

    The US Army, including the US Army Air Corps, was completely segregated until Harry Truman wrote any executive order well after the end of World War Two. That begs the question of, who would have trained these blacks? And where? And for how long? They didn’t just burst on the scene a fully trained and combat ready unit. Who taught them real combat flying in theater?

    It’s a mystery.

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