OUR VIEW: Airman is one of many deserving recognition

At their last meeting the Terrebonne Parish Council voted their support for the naming of the Houma-Terrebonne Airport’s field and building after Augustus Brown Sr. The Airport Commission must make the final pen stroke for this to happen, and we couldn’t agree more with the concept.

Augustus Brown Sr. trained and flew with the Tuskegee Airmen, a squad of pilot fighters who broke military racial barriers during WWII, black angels in the sky who protected U.S. bombers during their raids. Other black servicemen broke other barriers in generations before them. But it was the Tuskegee Airmen who made their own unique history as a significant if overlooked segment of America’s Greatest Generation.

Dubbed “redtails” by their fellow U.S. service members and “black birdmen” by the German airmen they confounded during their escort missions, the Tuskegee Airmen’s place in history is now recognized. In 2007 President George W. Bush presented medals to the surviving airmen – about 300 out of 1,000 – and praised their service. Augustus Brown Sr. had passed on eight years before that.

Certainly his barrier-breaking WWII service would and should be enough to warrant the naming of some building or facility after him. But Brown’s service extended beyond that, as a member of the Houma-Terrebonne Airport Commission. As a civilian aviator he built experimental aircraft and volunteered for a search and rescue group organized by the late Charlton Rozands when he was sheriff.

We have no doubt that the Airport Commission will move favorably on the honor requested for Brown. But the topic brings up another issue.

Terrebonne Parish has a rich history, and many of the people who are a part of it – the late Sen. Alan J. Ellender among them – have been honored by having their names affixed to government buildings and schools. Ellender has a high school named after him as well as an office building, where the Houma post office is housed, along with several federal agencies. This is right and appropriate, as is the naming of the Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center in Houma for the senator who made sure it was built and funded.

Some streets in Terrebonne are named for black people. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is among those. That particular naming has an interesting and unique history, what with its having been a stretch of road that went largely through wooded areas. Ironically, it is now home to some of the most valuable real estate in Terrebonne Parish, and the businesses that occupy it are the bedrock of the parish’s sales tax base. In some cities and towns streets named for the great civil rights leader are relegated to neighborhoods people want to move out of. Not so here.

As visitors to the soon to be opened African-American Museum Regional Museum will learn when they view its exhibits, many black people are associated with significant flakes of Terrebonne Parish history. General Lyons, a black sheriff, and Hamp Keyes, a 19th Century state legislator, are among them.

As Terrebonne Parish moves forward in its history, considerable attention should be paid to the need for diversity in its choice of building names. Because so much time has passed in our history without knowledge of who some of these people may have been, it is incumbent upon us to make a conscious effort to determine which of them might be suitably honored by being the first choice as namesakes, even if the ultimate decision is that some other person might be more appropriate. The same goes for native people whose contributions merit note.

To encourage diversity consideration when the naming of buildings arises is not to confer special treatment. It is merely an exercise in fair play that can go a long way toward providing positive reinforcement for our youth, and affirmation for all, of the kind of society we endeavor to become.

The proposal for a naming of the airfield and the airport administration building is a good, positive first step toward going down that road, one that we should have traveled a long time ago. •