Tuskegee Airmen Harry Quinton, a WW II army sergeant, gazes intently at a documentary on the Tuskegee Airmen at Maryland Live! Casino’s Black History Month Celebration, Feb. 25. (Photo by Monica Smith)
Over 200 guests packed the Ram’s Head stage and lounge at Maryland Live! Casino in Hanover Feb. 25 to honor and celebrate Black heroes.
Cordish Companies vice president Reed Cordish called “diversity and inclusion” core values, saying this is the casino’s third annual Black History Heroes event. To the 15 honorees he said, “Your sacrifices and willingness to put on the line are inspirational.”
Yet the evening clearly belonged to a living legend, documented Original Tuskegee Airman Harry Quinton of Williamsburg, Virginia. “The Tuskegee Airmen had to fight for the right to fight,” T.J. Spann said during his introduction of the 90-year-old veteran.
“If you live long enough,” Quinton began, ”something good is sure to happen to you.”
An Eastern Shore native, Quinton first celebrated Negro History Week in Salisbury, Maryland “Colored” schools, but lost interest by his senior year, as the WW II draft loomed on his horizon.
A pharmacist suggested his employee become an aircraft, rather than auto mechanic following his 1943 high school graduation. Quinton said, “I never saw anyone at the local airport that looked like me–of my color–working on airplanes.”
Poor depth perception excluded him as an aviation cadet and the Air Corps assigned him to the 477th Bombardment Group at Godman Field, Kentucky.
“When they said we couldn’t fly, we had people lined up for training; they thought we couldn’t fix complex machinery, but we made those engines run like they were sewing machines,” Quinton recalled.
Honorably discharged as a sergeant, Quinton was unable to find work as a mechanic and abandoned the field where he once excelled. Securing other work was no cakewalk either.
He used the G.I. Bill to attend Plattsburgh College and Long Island University, earning A.A. and B.S. degrees in accounting. Quinton became a U.S. Treasury Department Agent, retiring years later.
He pursued graduate courses at Hofstra University and night adult education classes in Black History; he also received an honorary doctorate from Old Dominion University in 2012.
“If you don’t know your history, you don’t know who you are,” Quinton said about his move to Virginia and his first sight of cotton. He visualized his forebearers–slaves–working on plantations, and “thought of Harriet Tubman negotiating the swamps, trees and marshes” along the Underground Railroad at night.
Quinton concluded, “Tonight, I accept my award on behalf of those 66 pilots who died in combat; I accept it on behalf of the 80 that were killed in training; I accept it for the 101 who faced court-martial because they wouldn’t follow an order to segregate them. And last, but not least, I accept it on behalf of my mother, who worked two jobs so that I could go to aviation school and put me on the right track, that I would end up here tonight.”
Awardees (as listed in the program):
Pamela J. Bethel, J.D.
The O’Riordan Bethel Law Firm, LLP
Lonnie G. Bunch, III
Director, National Museum of African American History and Culture
The Smithsonian in Washington, DC
Anne Arundel County Police Department
Women’s Presidents’ Educational Organization
Chief Diversity Officer
Anne Arundel County Community College (AACC)
Eugene W. Grant
Seat Pleasant, Maryland
Jeanne D. Hitchcock, Esq.
Special Advisor to the Vice President for Local Government, Community and Corporate Affairs
Johns Hopkins University
Carroll H. Hanson Jr.
Image Power, Inc.
Towanda R. Livingston
Director, Small, Local and Minority Business Enterprise (SLMBE) Office
Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC)
Dr. Harry Quinton
Skipp Sanders, Ed.D.
Executive Director, Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland
African American History and Culture
The Honorable Herman L. Taylor
14th Legislative District, Maryland
Dr. Marie Washington
East Baltimore Community Corporation