The Flight of Jesse LeRoy Brown

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Jesse Leroy Brown was born in 1926 to sharecroppers in the segregated South. An outstanding student and top athlete, he set his sights on becoming a Navy pilot despite the resistance of his family and the rampant Jim Crow laws. Brown qualified for the Navy Reserve and was accepted into the Naval Air Training School at Glenview, Illinois. He was the first African American to enter the program and subsequently fly a Navy fighter and make a carrier landing. Based on archival documents and interviews with those who ...
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Jesse Leroy Brown was born in 1926 to sharecroppers in the segregated South. An outstanding student and top athlete, he set his sights on becoming a Navy pilot despite the resistance of his family and the rampant Jim Crow laws. Brown qualified for the Navy Reserve and was accepted into the Naval Air Training School at Glenview, Illinois. He was the first African American to enter the program and subsequently fly a Navy fighter and make a carrier landing. Based on archival documents and interviews with those who knew Brown, The Flight of Jesse Leroy Brown is both a stirring story of a man breaking historic racial barriers and a thrilling tale of naval carrier aviation and combat.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In the late 1940s, when every aspiring black pilot had heard of the army's Tuskegee program, Jesse Leroy Brown set his sights on becoming a navy aviator. An outstanding student and top athlete, the 17-year-old's ambition was met with a combination of incredulity and resistance. Yet, at a time when Jim Crow laws were rampant, Brown managed to break the color barrier to become the first black U.S. Navy pilot. Taylor (The Cay) puts his considerable narrative skills to good use in tracing Brown's path from his youth in poverty-stricken Palmer's Crossing, Miss., to his eventual induction into the heady and dangerous world of carrier aviation. Taylor based much of his research on interviews with those who knew Brown and on personal letters from more than a half-century ago. He doesn't skimp on the indignities Brown suffered. At flight training in Illinois, the "Negro" stewards who served student pilots took an immediate offense at his presence and treated him rudely, giving him only half portions. Elsewhere, Brown and his wife and their best friends, a white couple, were refused service at both a black and a white restaurant, and wound up eating in their car. Although readers may balk at first at Taylor's supposition of Brown's innermost thoughts--"Just forget my color. Please. Just teach me"--the overall effect is an engaging and intimate glimpse of a young pioneer who desperately wanted to earn his aviator's wings. Brown's death in Korea at age 24 makes his story and his accomplishments all the more poignant. Photos not seen by PW. (Nov.)
Children's Literature - Gisela Jernigan
Jesse Leroy Brown, who broke down racial barriers to become the first black man to enter the Naval Air Training School and the first black man to fly a Navy fighter and make a carrier landing, is brought to life in this thorough, well-researched biography. The author explains in the preface, how he reconstructed dialogue in the book from tapes, letters and interviews with people who knew him. Twenty-eight chapters chronicle Brown's life from his childhood in Mississippi to his years of training in Naval aviation in Pensacola, Florida, to his heroic actions in the Korean War. Because of its length (300 pages) and density, this book would probably appeal most to more mature readers or those especially interested in aviation and the Navy. An index and black and white photos are included.
School Library Journal
YA-More than a biography, this is a thrilling story of naval aviation and combat. In 1926, Brown was born to sharecroppers in the segregated South. An outstanding student and star athlete, he dreamed of becoming a Navy pilot. His parents valued education and hoped that their son would attend a black college, but Brown, single-minded in the pursuit of his dream, entered Ohio State University in September 1944, and went on to become the first black man to fly a Navy fighter and make a carrier landing. On December 5, 1950, Brown's plane was shot down over Korea and all attempts to rescue him failed. YAs will be touched and inspired by this story of a remarkable man who faced adversity with courage and dignity and persevered to fulfill his dream. Taylor's nonfiction is as absorbing as his fiction.-Carol Clark, formerly at Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
Kirkus Reviews
A mediocre, cliché-riddled tale of America's first black naval aviator, by the author of To Kill the Leopard (1993) and numerous other works.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591148524
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2007
  • Series: Bluejacket Bks.
  • Pages: 300
  • Sales rank: 979,200
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Columbus, Ohio

September 1944

Daisy Pearl Nix, Jesse's girlfriend, went to the train station with him that early evening and Fletcher Brown, twelve years old, showed up as well. He'd sneaked away from Kelly's Settlement and hitchhiked to Hattiesburg to see his big brother off. While Jesse was pleased, he knew Fletcher would have to return to the farm in darkness. He also knew that Papa John would not take kindly to the adventure. So Jesse sent Fletcher home.

He stood on the platform with Daisy, holding her, teasing her about hearing that Ohio girls were a lot more friendly than ones in Mississippi. A lot more sexy.

"You just keep away from them," Daisy instructed. "You write me every single night. And I don't want to know anything about those girls."

After lingering kisses, he entered the segregated "darky car," which he'd have to ride through Tennessee and Kentucky until it reached the border of Ohio. He found a seat and made a sign to Daisy through the window glass. She was wiping her eyes and mouthing, "I love you." He smiled back and told her the same.

The train left on time and rocked through the night. He'd always taken buses to go places inside Mississippi. He looked around at the black faces in the car and wondered if the white cars up ahead were different. Do they have nicer seats? Better toilets? This one was old and creaky. He knew there were dining cars on many trains. Where do the Negroes eat? Do they have a separate section? Oddly enough, he'd never asked anybody about that. When, oh when, will segregation stop?

He'd bought a new copy of PopularAviation at the station newsstand. He hadn't read the magazine in a long time. The issue was devoted to carrier warfare. While the train pounded north, whistle and bell cleaving the night at crossings, trackside lights flashing into the cars, clacks of steel on steel, Jesse read about the pilots and planes and air battles against the Japanese in the Pacific. By 2 A.M., when he fell asleep, he'd made up his mind about what he definitely wanted to do-fly off flattops. Have Negroes ever flown off aircraft carriers? I'd like to try.

The train chuffed into Columbus a little before dawn. Most of the black passengers had waited until Columbus to move forward. Jesse bought a penny postcard at the station and mailed it.

Mr. Issac Heard
Stone Building, Room 4566
Hampton Institute, Virginia

Dear Ike:

I've just arrived in Columbus. But it is still dark and I don't know how things will look. Will write soon.

Your pal,

Jesse's cousin Ike had gone to Hampton in August, pleased that Jesse had decided on an architectural career but disappointed that he wouldn't be in Virginia. He was convinced that Jesse would have a tougher time at Ohio State. He thought Hampton would have given him a track scholarship.

At dawn Jesse came out of the station with two cardboard suitcases and walked to the boarding house at 61 East Eleventh Avenue in the heart of "colored town." it was friendly territory beginning with Ma Jenkins, who owned the three-story clapboard building. Five other Negro students were living there, as well as a nurse and a secretary.

A letter from "Professor" Nathaniel Burger, Eureka's principal, awaited:

Good luck, Jesse. Students here at Eureka High will be eagerly following your progress at OSU. Negro youth has been starved for heroes for such a long time. As the first of our graduates to enter a predominately white university, you are our hero. Our hopes and prayers are with you.

As a black man, Burger knew what problems Jesse would be facing.

Jesse read the letter twice. Hero? Good Lord! I've got enough on my back already.

In bed that night, listening to new sounds, smelling new smells, Jesse knew he'd made the right decision but also knew that tomorrow he'd have to confront an entirely different way of life. OSU wasn't tiny Lux, wasn't Kelly's settlement. OSU had thousands of students, 99 percent white.

Ma Jenkins had said, "Hattiesburg, Mississippi, eh?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"We had a country boy from Mount Olive two years ago and he got so homesick he headed back to Mississippi in less than two months. Don't let that happen to you. Keep your mind on your books. An' if you get a troubled mind, talk to me 'bout it."

"Yes, ma'am."

His mind was troubled already, though he wouldn't admit it to Ma Jenkins.

"One bit o' advice. Make as many white friends as you can. You'll be livin' in Milk o' Magnesia world an' make no mistake 'bout it. Don't depend on black brothers an' sisters. There won't be many. They got their own problems."

"Yes, ma'am."

"How old are you?"


"You'll grow up here in a hurry."

Ma Jenkins was beefy and lighter in color, but she reminded Jesse a little of M'dear Miz Addie, Daisy's mother.

In three of his four classes in the College of Engineering, there were no black students, but to his surprise Jesse didn't feel any particular animosity aside from being ignored. Half a dozen white students had openly welcomed him and two white girls had even sat with him at lunch outdoors in the autumn sunshine the first day.

Finally, on the third day, one of the girls, Sarah, a junior, said, "Why are you purposely separating yourself, eating out here alone? None of my business, of course."

"Habit, I guess."

"I hope you don't think that anyone is going to get up from a table just because you sit down. It could happen, but I don't think it will. Negroes have been students here for many years. Don't make yourself special." He was trying not to-unsuccessfully.

Jesse ate in the campus union building with them the next day and one of the brothers, a boy from Indiana, joined them. Though still uncomfortable, he felt more relaxed.

But in some ways Columbus wasn't much different from Hattiesburg. None of the restaurants on High Street, next...

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Table of Contents

Preface     xi
Part I
Columbus, Ohio: September 1944     8
Palmer's Crossing, Mississippi: July 1936     23
Lux, Mississippi: May 1938     30
Glenview, Illinois: March 1947     35
Glenview Naval Air Station: March 21, 1947     48
Kelly's Settlement, Mississippi: September 1940     59
Hattiesburg, Mississippi: October 1942     64
Ottumwa, Iowa: April 10, 1947     75
Ottumwa: April 18, 1947     86
Ottumwa: Late May, 1947     94
Part II
Pensacola, Florida: August 1947     101
Lieutenant Tipton: October 1947     114
Pensacola: October 1947     122
Mrs. Clayton's: Late October, 1947     131
Pensacola City: November 1947     138
Pensacola: April 1948     152
USS Wright: June 1948     161
Wings of Gold: October 1948     168
Part III
Fighter Squadron 32: December 1948     181
Hattiesburg: May 1949     189
Thomas Hudner: November 1949     199
USS Philippine Sea: February 1950     210
War: June 1950     221
Enroute North Korea: September 1950     235
Japan: November 1950     249
The Bridges Over the Yalu: November 1950     256
The MSR: December 1, 1950     265
Part IV
Hattiesburg: December 4, 1950     282
Epilogue     286
Index     291
In Appreciation     299
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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2002

    An outstanding book.

    As a former Navy Veteran, I think this is a well written and informative book. It covers The "Forgotten War" at a crucial time. (The Chosin Reservoir Campaign). It was very informative as to the training of a Naval Aviator. It shows what strength and dedication to a dream can accomplish. It has memorable people throughout. Jesse Brown himself and Lt.(J.G.) Thomas Hudner (A Medal of Honor Winner)among others. It was very inspiring and I can only quote James Michener(from the "Bridges at Toko-Ri) "Where does America get such men"?

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