By Janice Ewing
and Lateefa Ali
The Tuskegee Airmen earned their place in history as they bravely defied convention and fought for what they loved. We remember these men. But we seem to forget their wives who have also earned their place in history, defying convention and fighting for what, and who they loved.
One such courageous woman was Velma Jean Brown Ewing, wife of Tuskegee Airman Major James Ewing Jr. She was born to the union of George and Annie LaNair Brown on Sept. 10, 1924, in Minter City, Mississippi.
She passed away on Dec. 20, 2012.
At 16 years old, Velma and Mr. Ewing secretly eloped in 1940. She graduated as valedictorian from Eliza Miller High School in 1942 and attended Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas and Henderson Business College of Memphis, Tennessee, where she received her business credentials.
She lived a life of taking chances and ensuring that everyone she came in contact with had the opportunity to be loved and have an education despite their race, sex or age.
As a devoted military wife and mother, she made sure her family was taken care of throughout her husband’s military career. In 1951, Velma single-handedly traveled to France on an ocean liner with their four children to join her husband for his French assignments.
Velma was a devoted advocate for education and received recognition for her service during her husband’s assignments across the world. She was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation by the Officer’s Wives’ Club of Yokota, Japan for her volunteer services in the local Japanese School assisting with the conversational English program.
After her husband was permanently assigned to the Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, CA in 1964, she became the first African American school board member of the Travis Unified School District, serving from 1967 to 1983.
In her 16 years as a school board member, she served as president, vice president and clerk. Velma served as a member of the Travis School District PTA board, first vice president of the Protestant Women of the Chapel and was a member of the Travis Officer’s Wives’ Club and the Delegate Assembly of the California School Boards’ Association.
She was the first African American to be hired by the Solano County Office of Education, working as a secretary for Solano Superintendent Wendall Kuykendall for 28 years, retiring at the age of 70.