“I just wanted to fly”
“I just wanted to fly."
Those are the words of John Falker Briggs, a proud member of the 99th Fighter Squadron and an original Tuskegee Airman. In the tumultuous period of World War II and intense racial prejudice in the US, there was a significant need for fighter squadrons but a restriction on African-American pilots. After 9 years of fervent lobbying by the NCAA and other groups, Congress approved funds for the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of highly trained Black fighter pilots, to fly in segregated forces. Between 1941 and 1946, 992 pilots entered this historical group. They had one of the highest success rates for bomber transports in the military. Even Eleanor Roosevelt requested to be escorted by them. These men were not only adept at aircraft maneuvering, but were also expected to pass rigorous academic and physical exams. And, in the words of Teresa Scurlock, “they were very handsome.” Mrs. Scurlock’s uncle, John Briggs, was no exception. He graduated from Sumner High, Tuskegee University, and advanced to the rank of Major in the Air Force. He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor in 2007 by President George W. Bush, along with over 300 other original airmen, in recognition of their unique military record, which inspired revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces, Mrs. Scurlock had the privilege of accompanying Mr. Briggs and his wife Mary Jane, to Washington DC for the ceremony. She was touched by witnessing the reunion of these awe-inspiring men who hadn’t seen many of them in 60 years. Growing up with such a role model in her life, Mrs. Scurlock decided to go to ground school and take private pilot lessons.
Mrs. Scurlock has an interesting story to tell of her own as well. Born in the Ville, she attended Catholic schools and eventually St. Louis University. However, she comes back to St. Matthew the Apostle Parish, not just for Sunday Mass. “Whenever you have a church in a community, no matter how oppressed the community is, I think that there’s hope,” she stated. St. Matthews offers a lot of community outreach, through donation drives, Halloween parties, and Christmas in the Ville, Read and Feed, to name a few. St. Matthews is also a member of the Ville Collaborative, a group of community organizations that coordinates resources to serve the Ville; “When there’s a will there’s a way, and people make things happen.” Mrs. Scurlock cites Homer G. Phillips Hospital as a reminder to “never give up.” After standing empty for many years, it was eventually redeveloped and now provides senior living. Mrs. Scurlock concluded by saying “I see a promise.” And we do too!
Written by Audrey Feldman, Notre Dame Volunteer Intern 2021