BY JORDAN GIBBONS
Dabney Montgomery, a Tuskegee Airman and one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s bodyguards during the historic Selma to Montgomery march, visited Merrick Academy in Springfield Gardens to talk to more than 200 students about his experiences battling racial discrimination.
Montgomery also became heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement later in life. He participated in marches in New York City and in the 1963 March on Washington.
U.S. Rep. Greg Meeks (D-Jamaica) attended the event and told the students that because of the work of King, they can do anything they want to do because of education.
“Dr. King was fighting to make sure that individuals receive a quality education so that they can get a good job and have a good living,” Meeks said. “But, you have a special treat today… he [Montgomery] showed and proved that you could achieve and fight successfully to make this country a better country for all of its citizens.”
Montgomery was born in 1923 in Selma, Ala., but has lived in Harlem for the last 56 years.
He brought some artifacts from his military experience to show to the children and he also brought a copy of a report that was written by the U.S. War Dept. in 1918, which concluded that a Black man is strong enough to stand up and fight for what he believes in and his brain is not capable of being taught how to fly a plane. It stated that any attempt to teach a Black man how to fly a plane is a waste of time.
“I am standing here to stay, this is not the truth,” Montgomery told the students.
Starting in 1943, he served in the 1051st Quartermaster Company of the 96th Air Service Group, attached to the 332nd Air Fighter Group. He served there until the end of World War II.
He shared a story about the toughest day of his life when he was stationed in Southern Italy near Mt. Vesuvius in 1944. Montgomery said that the volcano began to erupt and blew hot ash towards his group.
“In spite of the study and in spite of the rain of fire and in spite all the statements in that document,” he said. “We stood up and we fought back and won.”
He told the students that they should think of that when they come across a math problem or something else they are struggling with in school.
“Don’t say I can’t do it,” Montgomery said. “Look at the problem and say I’m going to fight this problem and I’m going to win.”
Reach Reporter Jordan Gibbons at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 123, firstname.lastname@example.org or @jgibbons2.