Lt. Spann Was A Change Agent
CARROLLTON, TEXAS, CASCADE PRESS (CP) Lieutenant Calvin J. Spann was a change agent. Spann did not set out to become a change agent. As a teenager growing up in Rutherford, New Jersey in the 1930s, he just wanted to fly airplanes. Little did he know his dream of becoming a pilot would change the course of a war. The winds of which were beginning to stir in Europe, or that his dream would lead to wider acceptance of black Americans by their government.
What is a change agent? According to study.com, a “Change Agent is a person from inside or outside the organization who helps an organization transform itself by focusing on such matters as organizational effectiveness, improvement, and development.”
In 1943, Spann learned that he had scored higher than any applicant who had taken a math and science test administered by the US Army to persons seeking to become pilots. Before his senior high school class could graduate, Spann was summoned to report to Fort Dix, New Jersey for induction into the US Army, presumably to become a fighter pilot. He had just turned 19 years of age. Spann made arrangements for a younger sister to accept his high school diploma on his behalf and reported to duty.
When Spann reported for induction into the Army, recruiters realized that he was black. It had never dawned on the white recruiters that the person with the highest score could be anyone other than a white person. In 1943, the Army, like all of American life – South and North – was segregated. In spite of Spann’s superior intellectual ability he was denied admission into this segregated white Army unit.
But all was not lost. In 1928, when Spann was four years old, Robert Russo Moton, who in 1915 succeeded Booker T. Washington as President of Tuskegee Institute, dedicated 500 acres of Institute land for the development of an airstrip to be used to train black pilots. In 1939, at the dawn of the War in Europe, Tuskegee Institute began a pilot training program with federal funds from the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA).
By 1941, the Army had moved into Tuskegee Institute (although they probably were already there) and created a pathway for black pilots to earn their military wings. In 1943, Tuskegee Institute was the perfect place to dispatch Spann and to maintain the myth of racial superiority inherent in American culture in that day.
On the first Sunday in September 2015, the sun did an unusual thing. It radiated a stream of light or consciousness, through the window of Spann’s living room in Allen, Texas. Dressed in his Tuskegee Airmen cap and draped in his “Tuskegee Red” blazer, a big smile appeared on his face. He drew his last breath. He got a new pair of wings.
Then the radiating light danced out of the window. It danced like Spann often said he had danced in ’44 when he got his wings and became not only a Tuskegee Airman, but a US Army Airman.
In nearly 91 years, Spann’s commitment to a dream of flying airplanes caused America to integrate its armed forces, forced her, in time, to come to terms with her subliminal racism and put to the lie, the notion that black men and women are inferior in intelligence to other Americans.
Long live the legacy of Calvin J. Spann. Long live the spirit of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Harold Michael Harvey, is the author of the legal thriller “Paper Puzzle,” and “Justice in the Round: Essays on the American Jury System,” available at Amazon and at haroldmichaelharvey.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org