Local 237 retiree Dabney Montgomery was among the 18 surviving Tuskegee Airmen invited by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to a White House reception and screening of George Lucas’s movie “Red Tails,” on Jan. 13. The film portrays the struggles of the famed black fighter pilots who broke racial barriers with their bravery in World War II.
Dabney Montgomery, with his wife Amelia, displaying
the Congressional Medal of Honor awarded to surviving
Tuskegee Airmen in 2007.
Montgomery, 88 years old, a former housing assistant with the New York City Housing Authority, had served in the ground crew for the airmen. “We supplied the Tuskegee experiment with food and clothing,” explained Montgomery in a 2009 interview at Local 237. “I use the word experiment,” he added, “because the theory was that the arteries in the brain of black men were smaller than the arteries in the brain of white men, so our brain could not accept sharp curves and dives that were needed to fly a fighter plane.”
Thoroughly disproving the theory, Tuskegee pilots became legendary for “never losing a bomber,” noted Montgomery. “I once met a pilot who did not want to be escorted by a black pilot. When we were in the plane wearing masks, you couldn’t tell who the pilot was, but the tails of the planes of the black pilots were painted red.When the armed forces were given their first orders to bomb Berlin, the pilots requested that the Red Tails escort them. What a change!”
At the White House reception with his wife, Amelia, Montgomery and each airman received handshakes from the Obamas and a coin with the presidential seal. “I kissed Mrs. Obama two times,” quipped Montgomery, who along with his wife said the evening “is a memory all of us will always cherish.”
“Red Tails,” which opened in theaters Jan. 20, was produced by George Lucas, of “Star Wars” fame, with an all-black cast that included Academy-Award winning actor Cuba Gooding Jr., and Terrence Howard.
“George Lucas had a dream and it took him 20 years and $100 million out of his own pocket to fulfill it,” said Montgomery. Lucas’ script with all-black leading men had been turned down consistently by Hollywood, which didn’t see its potential for a box-office hit.
“For too long the positive things that African-Americans have done have been overlooked or swept under the rug,” Montgomery said, adding that the film “is more than black history; it’s American history.” He had high praise for the film. “You must see it,” urges Montgomery, “I’ve seen it at least eight times.”