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How I Know Dr. Roscoe C. Brown

Photo by Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin

This is a guest post by Dr. Sam Gellens, interviewer for Remembering Riverdale: Our Neighborhood Oral History Project at Riverdale Library. Sam conducted his first interview for the project with Dr. Roscoe C. Brown on May 12, 2016. Dr. Brown was one of the Tuskegee Airmen and a squadron commander 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group, and most recently served as President of Bronx Community College and director of the Center for Education Policy at the City University of New York. This was Dr. Brown's last major interview before he passed away on July 2, 2016. After you read this post, you can listen to Dr. Brown's story at

How I Knew Dr. Roscoe C. Brown:

When my wife and young son and I moved to Riverdale in 1990, we bought an apartment in the same building where Roscoe Brown had already lived in for two years and some.  As I got to know him as a neighbor who I would see going to his car, we would exchange greetings and eventually got to talking.  He was always the consummate gentleman who had a great sense of humor, and was always ready to talk about his experiences as one of the Tuskegee Airman, president of Bronx Community College, and a proud citizen of New York City.  

Group portrait of Tuskegee Airmen squadron. Image ID: 1823641

When he learned that at that time I was a history instructor in the upper school at Horace Mann, he expressed his willingness to visit one of my classes and I was thrilled to be presented with such an opportunity.  He brought a scale model of his P-51 Mustang fighter plane with him and explained in riveting detail what it was like over the skies of Germany in the latter stages of WWII.  My students were very taken with him and he obviously enjoyed himself.  He was a pleasure in all ways.

When I signed on, so to speak, with the NYPL's oral history initiative in Riverdale, I knew he was the first person I would like to interview.  I consider myself very fortunate indeed to have had the opportunity to talk with him in mid-May.  He was simply wonderful—cooperative, entertaining, and informative.  As he walked me to the front door of his apartment following our interview, he said to me “Sam, the greatest antidote to prejudice is excellence.”  I will never forget that comment and it indicated the measure of the man.


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