Tuskegee Airman Grew Up in Luzerne County

NUANGOLA -- The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military aviators in American history and only recently have they been recognized for their bravery and accomplishments in World War II.

Very few know that one of the living Tuskegee Airmen grew up in Luzerne County.

Lt. Col. James Harvey is just turning 94. The Luzerne County native now enjoys the recognition given to him and other Tuskegee Airmen.

"It's nice to be recognized as the best of the Army Air Corps, and the best in the United States Air Force," said Harvey.

But he's never been recognized in Luzerne County where his family came seeking work during the Great Depression.

Harvey spent his teenage years in Nuangola Station, in the Mountain Top area. The community was named for a busy train stop, and only a concrete slab of that station remains.

He grew up as part of the only African-American family in this community in southern Luzerne County. In his memoirs, Harvey said, "I was treated like everyone else. There was not any prejudice whatsoever."

His friends elected Harvey senior class president at his high school in Mountain Top.

But after graduation, race mattered.

Harvey was drafted in 1943 and sent to Alabama, where the Army Air Corps developed an all-black flying unit that came to be known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

"During that period of time, Tuskegee, Alabama was the worst place in the country, as far as Negroes are concerned. It was sport to go out on a Saturday night, pick up a young black man, beat him, castrate him, hang him."

Harvey says he encountered subtle racism in the military.

The Army Air Corps, like the American south, remained largely segregated. All military pilots were white.

"They said we didn't have the ability to fly aircraft or operate heavy machinery. We were inferior to the white man, we were nothing."

Nothing perhaps, until the military dispatched the Tuskegee Airmen to Europe at the peak of fighting in World War II.

Their planes, known as the red tails, took part in 1,500 combat missions they escorted American bombers over Germany on missions that helped force Germany's surrender.

"They just kept it secret. They just didn't want it known, that we, as a race of people can do anything."

James Harvey's service is also a secret in his home county. His family moved to New Jersey during the war.

Harvey never returned to Nuangola Station. Instead, he served in the Air Force until he retired in 1965.

He's now living in Denver and looks back with pride after fighting for a country and a military that often treated African-Americans as second class citizens.

"We figured that we could make a change. If we did what we had to do show them how we were, if given a chance. That's why we wanted to fly and fly for our country. It's our country just as much as theirs," Harvey added.

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6 comments

  • an example to follow

    Dear gang bangers, drug dealers, thugs, homies, and every other person of color that thinks the world owes them something: Follow this mans example. He and many others rose above the BS you call white privelege and racism and went on to make something of themselves. And this was 70 years ago. Finish at least a basic education. Work for a living, get a legitmate job, be a responsible and honorable person for your family, give back to your community, have some respect for others. Help someone else that needs their course corrected. It starts with you.

  • ingrid yost

    where are all of the racist comments now? most people that comment on this website give the rest of us a bad name. i grew up by nuangola and for having very few non-white families, everyone was still treated equal. as it should be

    • Why?

      Shut up, stupid. Two people before you have the decency to post complementary comments, but you’re the one that first brought up racism. What would be wrong with giving the man his due? You have to throw the first stone. Idiot.

    • Robert

      Once again Chris Rock said it best.
      Bring the pain 96, google it and figure it out yourself.
      I think Ingrid the racist comments are in YOUR heart. This man is a real American and you bring shame to yourself.