We are honoring Black History Month with a weekly post each Monday throughout February on people and places related to the Meadowlands. The posts are taken from our archives and were originally done by former staffer Jim Wright.
Today the focus is Tuskegee Airman Calvin Spann, who grew up in Rutherford. Mr. Spann died this past September.
In future weeks we’ll look at the Underground Railroad in Jersey City, a slave cemetery in Little Ferry, and a famous black actress and civil rights activist who worked in Kearny.
Calvin J. Spann, who grew up in Rutherford, served with the famed Tuskegee Airmen during World War II.
From 1943 to 1946, 1st Lt. Spann served in the US Army Air Force, 332nd Fighter Group, 100th Squadron, as part of the famed Tuskegee Airmen — the first-ever group of black Army pilots.
Spann was among an elite group of Tuskegee Airmen who escorted B-17 bombers and reconnaissance planes over Nazi Germany during World War. Spann flew 26 combat missions.
In a phone interview yesterday from his home in Texas, Spann said: “My growing up in Rutherford inspired me to be a Tuskegee Airman. Planes from Teterboro Airport took off right over my house.
“I was able to do everything any young man in high school did, and when I got into the Air Corps and they said they didn’t think I could learn to fly, I thought that was preposterous. I’d been doing everything everyone else was doing all my life, and it really stuck with me. That was my experience growing up in Rutherford.”
Click here for more with Tuskegee Airman Calvin Spann.
Spann, who heard Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his “I have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C, in August 1963, recently attended the inauguration of President Obama.
“If I were to compare the two events, I’d say the Inauguration was greater,” said Spann. “The atmosphere was something –everyone was friendly. And this time I had an invitation — and a seat close to the podium with the big shots.”
Spann is a member of the New Jersey Aviation Hall of Fame in Teterboro and a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal.
To read more about the Tuskegee Airmen, click here.