by Dr. Christine Warnke
As a child growing up in the Washington Metropolitan area, I, too, felt the ugliness of discrimination. My mother emigrated from Greece and my family felt the sting of prejudice because my mother’s accent was “different” than that of our all American “white tower” neighborhood mothers. Compounding the prejudice for my family and me was the fact that I was bi-lingual. While my native language is English, I spent my early childhood years in South America and spoke Spanish as fluently as English. Discrimination was evident even at my elementary school – just one mile from the border of the Maryland-DC line. As a child, I saw what harm can be imposed, for I certainly experienced it firsthand. My father, a native South Dakotan, had no prejudices. He taught his three children to be tolerant and respectful of everyone no matter what and, we lived by this creed.
When I started to pursue my doctoral dissertation and focused on Greek immigration to Washington, DC from l890–1940, I interviewed many of the earliest immigrant newcomers who all recalled the Ku Klux Klan’s unnerving presence in the heart of our Nation’s Capital. Everyone was a target of discrimination, but despite these fears, the European settlers found friendship and mutual support with their African American alley-house neighbors. They grew stronger because of these alliances and forged bi-cultural bonds to the extent that some African Americans actually learned to speak Greek.
While watching the movie The Help, I was reminded again of the insults and atrocities that African Americans women and men had to endure in the l940s and l950s. I also understand that in order to survive such indignations, one needs to have outlets to express one’s identity — whether it is through the written words of “Minnie” in The Help or on the battlefields fighting for the American flag.
During their time, the Tuskegee Airmen exemplified the fact that one’s circumstances in life do not stifle the will to overcome such barriers. The Tuskegee Airmen served their nation with distinction, bravery, and courage despite the deep-seated prejudices they had to endure.
Tuskegee Airmen distinguished themselves by their service to the nation and, as such, created a ripple effect on the African American community and inspiring our youth to pursue their ambitions and dreams in ways that their forefathers could never have realized. The seeds of courage planted by these trailblazing airmen will continue to sprout roots of steel and perseverance for generations to come.
Dr. Christine Warnke currently serves on the Board of Advisors to the Smithsonian Institution of National African Art. She is he Senior Governmental Affairs Advisor to Hogan Lovells LLP. In 2012, Dr. Warnke was elected as a Washington, DC citywide delegate to the Democratic Convention. In Charlotte, NC and for two prior Democratic Conventions, she served as a Superdelegate. Dr. Warnke is the host of a weekly program, The Next Word, on Channel 16 in Montgomery County, MD. MCC TV is one of the most successful local cable stations in the country today.