"Reflections of Life"
On November 2, 1917, a bundle of joy arrived marked "special delivery." He was named Eldridge Franklin Williams. He grew up working the land, picking cotton. His family worked on various plantations starting in Texas and eventually making their way to Kansas. Eldridge describes that work as "just above slavery, but with some hope." From the beginning, Eldridge felt sports and education was the way for him to break free and stand tall. He made it a point to be in top physical and mental condition throughout his life.
As World War II loomed for the U.S., another black man was about to chip away at racial inequality. On January 15, 1941, Howard University student Yancy Williams (no relation) filed a court order to be allowed to enter aviation cadet flight training. The very next day, the War Department announced it would establish an aviation cadet flight-training program at Tuskegee, Alabama for Blacks only. It didn't take Eldridge Williams but 30 days to apply to become part of that program.
Williams graduated Xavier University in August 1941 with a degree in Education and immediately reported for duty where he got in line for his aviation physical. One of five names selected, he arrived at 9 a.m. to find he was there with four white applicants. The other four went in almost immediately. Eldridge sat until just before 5 p.m. The doctor begrudgingly did the exam and looked for a way to fail him. Having played football, baseball and basketball, Williams stumped him. But when it came to the eye exam, the doctor manipulated the test and failed him for “depth perception and cupping of the optic disc." The final injustice was that the results were marked "Negro. Re-examination is NOT RECOMMENDED.”
This one event is what singularly kept Eldridge from ever flying with the Tuskegee Airmen, but also defined how he would overcome for the rest of his life.
Having been shot down for Tuskegee training, Williams was sent to an all-black outfit at Fort Leonardwood, Missouri for combat engineer training. Two weeks into training he was moved to the office because they found he could type 90 words a minute, a skill he learned by earning a Business Administration degree at Western University in 1936. Eldridge thought this was another pitfall in his desire to serve, but it turned out it was just what he needed.
His office skills and hard work allowed him to become a first sergeant and after two attempts (thwarted by his color), he was finally slotted to go for Officer Training in Miami Beach in 1942. Once there, because of race, he had trouble going to the beach and getting a haircut. The barracks were at the Collin's Plaza Hotel where, although desegregated, it was clear race was again a major impediment.
Williams graduated officer Training on October 28, 1942, and was quickly assigned to the Tuskegee Airmen where he trained them in survival and physical fitness. Within two years, he was promoted to captain and over the course of his enlistment trained 992 officers. He never attended graduation ceremonies, still scarred by the fact that he was fraudulently denied the opportunity to become an airman himself due to the physical examination in 1941.
After the war' he took a job as the head tennis and basketball coach at North Carolina A&T College. Even there, local law and rules severely punished successful blacks, so he hid under the radar and accepted less fortune than he was rightly entitled.
The military called Williams back into service during the Berlin Airlift crisis, which continued through the Korean War. During one of his deployments he was assigned to Okinawa, Japan. The orders specifically read" "Dependents will not accompany or later join Officer - for the convenience of the government." Another reminder of the race inequality Williams had to endure.
Ever since being stationed on Miami Beach, Eldridge had wanted to live in Miami. His second career was with the Miami Dade County Public school system. He taught for two years at Richmond Heights Middle School and in keeping with his career plan, became an administrator. Positions held included; coordinator of Federal Programs, Director of Administrative Staffing, Director of School Desegregation and Executive Director of Personnel. He" retired from the school system in 1985. He considered himself blessed to have experienced two wars and two major careers. Leaving behind a legacy that showcases the greatest aspects of the American dream; the indomitable human spirit, selfless dedication to service and the passing of those ideals down through the generations.
He had a heart for learning. He earned an A.A. from Western University; B.S. from Xavier University and a Masters from the University of Michigan. one of his proudest moments came when the Tuskegee Airmen were presented the congressional Gold Medal on March 29, 2007, by president George W. Bush. Lt' Col' Williams is a life member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., the Tuskegee Airmen, and Rotary Club of Miami – Kendall. He was also President of Lake Chara Homeowners Association where he lived for 42 years. His commitment to supporting service driven organizations is far reaching.
In 2009, Williams released a limited print book of his life story. Fittingly to the point of chills, it is titled “Without Wings I Soared.”
Before the dew lifted on July 2, 2015, Lt. Col. Eldridge Franklin Williams (Ret.), departed this life. His wife Marell Farrell and a sister Madelyn preceded him in death. He leaves to mourn his passing one daughter Kathryn Williams (Miami), Companion Dr. Rosa L. White (Miami), Cousins: Gertha Murphy, Marion Childress-Usher, Barbara Dennis (Texas), and Cynthia Adams; Nieces: (Los Angeles) Dwandelyn Howard, Patricia Rose and a host of other relatives and friends.
SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS
The Lonely Eagles now have a full compliment of combat leaders and the Tuskegee Airmen legacy lives on.
WHO ARE TUSKEGEE AIRMEN?
"Tuskegee Airmen" refers to the men and women, African-Americans and Caucasians, who were involved in the so-called "Tuskegee Experience", the Army Air Corps program to train African Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft. The Tuskegee Airmen included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors, and all the personnel who kept the planes in the air.
SITE CREATED BY: kthomas