Perry Lindsey: athlete, Tuskegee Airman, educator
DeWayne Wickham, an African American columnist whose essays appear in The (Louisville) Courier- Journal, and I agree somewhat on something he wrote in one of his recent columns. He stated, ‘I’ve never been a fan of Black History Month. I prefer far more regular doses of knowledge about the contributions blacks have made to this country and the world.’
As many of you know, for many years February has been designated Black History Month. I would not say that I have not been a ‘fan of Black History Month,’ because I feel that much good has no doubt come from such a designation. However, I do wish that Black History was effectively integrated into the overall history of this country and the world and was naturally taught along with all of our history.
Nevertheless, since this is Black History Month, I want to share some insight into the life of an unusual African American who made history in education circles and as a member of the elite group of African American pilots who were in World War II, the Tuskegee Airmen.
Perry Lindsey Jr. died Jan. 30 at the age of 81 in Long Beach, Calif. His obituary was in last week’s Corydon Democrat. He was one of my ‘double cousins.’ Perry’s grandfather and my grandfather were brothers, and his grandmother and my grandmother were sisters. Harve Brown married Kate Mitchum, and Harve’s brother, George Brown, married Kate’s sister, Lula Mitchum. Although Perry was from New Albany, during his high school years he lived in Corydon with Harve and Kate Brown. He graduated from Corydon High School in 1939, the year World War II began.
I had heard Fred Griffin mention Perry Lindsey from his knowledge of him as an outstanding high school athlete at Corydon. After learning of Perry’s death, I asked for Fred’s assistance in learning more about Perry’s days as a student at Corydon. Fred referred me to a set of files at the Griffin Center for Local History and Geneology where I found several photographs of Perry with his teammates and classmates.
Perry played basketball and softball and ran track. These pictures were worth ‘more than thousands of words’ for me. There, ‘looking back at me’ alongside his peers was Perry Lindsey, a slightly built, fair complexioned, young man with a serious look on his face.
Although Perry started college after high school, his education was interrupted by the war. However, he was chosen to be one of the elite Tuskegee Airmen, whose service as pilots during the war is well documented.
After the war, Perry became a licensed pilot and attempted to find work with a commercial airline, but, sadly, this opportunity never materialized because the airlines were not hiring black pilots at that time. Despite this turn of events, Perry completed his undergraduate work and ultimately his doctorate. He became the first black principal of a school in Long Beach and then he completed his career as an administrator with the Long Beach School District. What an impressive resum’ for a young man from New Albany whose roots are in Harrison County!
Ironically, another one of our cousins, who also has Harrison County roots, was trained at Tuskegee at about the same time Perry trained there. Bennett Hardy, a native of Kokomo, became a Tuskegee Airman. Recently, I spoke with Bennett, who is now 82 and lives in New Jersey, about his memories of Tuskegee.
Before I could ask him if he had met Perry Lindsey there, he stated that he had met someone else from this area. Apparently, both he and Perry thought they might be related. Can you imagine ‘ they didn’t know for sure and yet Bennett’s grandmother, Alice Brown Carter, and Perry’s grandfather, Harve Brown, were brother and sister! Alice and Harve Brown, along with their seven other siblings, were the children of Alfred and Emaline Brown, former slaves in Meade County, Ky., who started their lives as free people in Harrison County in 1866!
I only met Perry Lindsey once, when he attended his brother’s funeral in New Albany a few years ago. We talked at length about his years at Corydon and his years as an educator in California. He was a modest man and didn’t strike me as someone who fully realized that he was a living legend and would be a good example of someone whose life should be featured during Black History Month! Yet, two of the headlines for articles that appeared in the Los Angeles Times after Perry died read as follows: ‘Principal broke barriers,’ and ‘Perry Lindsey, 81; First Black Principal in Long Beach Schools.’