DANIEL “CHAPPIE” JAMES, JR.
Daniel Janies, Jr. was the seventeenth child of a family in Pensacola, Florida. His mother managed a school for African-Amer¬ ican children and taught her own children and others the value of leadership and a strong will.
In 1937, James, nicknamed “Chappie,” entered Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute (see no. 24) in Alabama. Though he was a popular, promising young man, he was expelled from the university two months before graduation because he was caught fighting with another student.
Deciding to join the army after having learned to fly an airplane at Tuskegee, James applied to a US Army Air Corps advanced flying program, also at Tuskegee. In 1943, as a second lieutenant, he was assigned to the 477th Bombardment Group at Selfridge Field near Detroit. Racism was still prevalent in the armed forces, and African-American officers were rarely pro¬ moted or allowed into officers’ clubs and facilities, despite a regulation making segre¬ gation in these clubs illegal.
The 477th was transferred to Indiana after incidents of racial tension grew too heated. When the officers realized that racism was as rampant in Indiana, they staged a peaceful sit-in at a segregated offi¬ cers’ club. The protesters were arrested and charged with mutiny.
When James and over 100 other officers came out in support of them, they too were arrested. Among the bold officers who risked their careers were Coleman Young, later elected mayor of Detroit, and the future secretary of trans¬ portation under President Gerald Ford, William T. Coleman.
In 1948, years after the officers were released by General George C. Marshall, President Harry S. Truman issued Order 9981, making segregation in the armed forces illegal.
James had begun a distinguished career. He was in the Philippines, where he was injured while saving the life of a fellow pilot. He flew 101 missions in Korea and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was made Deputy Commander for Operations for the US Air Force’s 81st Fighter Wing at Bentwaters, England, and later as a vice wing commander in Vietnam, where he flew 78 missions.
Confident and highly skilled as a leader, James faced Colonel Muammar Qadhafi, leader of Libya, in a confrontation in which Qadhafi rolled armored vehicles through Wheelus Air Force Base in 1969, demand¬ ing the US abandon the lease that granted them the base until 1970. Qadhafi himself met James with a gun outside the gate. With obvious command, James convinced Qad¬ hafi to withdraw, leaving the base in James’ command until it was closed.
After leaving Libya, James was promot¬ ed to brigadier general at the Pentagon in 1970. Five years later, after he’d been named commander in chief of NORAD (North American Air Defense Command), he became the first African-American four star general.