Growing up in Minneapolis in the pre-World War II years,
Harold H. Brown says that he and his brother “Bubba” were
“mongrel dogs”: their maternal line was white-Jewish-Black;
their paternal ancestors were African American and possibly
Native American. Both boys were light-complexioned with
straight hair, which Brown believes may have helped him
later in his career.
Throughout his childhood and attendance at an integrated
high school, he was fascinated with flying and so, when his
brother enlisted in the military at the beginning of the
War, Brown saw a way to achieve his own dream. Fully aware
that a black man in a mostly-white military wouldn’t have it
easy, but believing that racial discrimination for black
pilots would “resolve itself,” he decided to join the Air
Corps in mid-1942.
At the exam, he was “the only black man taking the mental
test… on that summer day,” and he was a quarter pound below
weight on the physical test. “I flunked it!” he says, but by
early 1943, he’d gained the needed ounces and had headed
south to officially enlist in the Tuskegee Army Flying
The South presented a big learning curve for a Northern
black man. Brown experienced serious racial problems for the
first time and though he “hated segregation,” he realized
that being in a segregated Air Corps unit was perhaps better
for a black soldier; training was easier when there were
more than just two or three black faces in a unit. And so he
trained hard: many hours of flight-time, classes, and more.
“We knew that we were among a very select group of people,”
“I never thought I would ever get shot down.”
Keep Your Airspeed Up
is a surprise. A very nice one.
Not only is it a warm and genuine biography, beginning even
before author Harold H. Brown was born, but this book
takes readers through a two-pronged fight, both in war and
for civil rights, as told through quiet tales of heroes and
those who created them. Brown (with Marsha Bordner) is
careful to give credit to the many who made him who he is;
after those gentle shout-outs and heart-in-your-throat war
stories, you’ll then be brought up-to-date with his current
life. Remarkably, through this all, Brown’s story is told
humbly, which will endear him to readers even more.
Even if you don’t consider yourself a World War II buff,
this book is more than just that. There’s other history
here, as well as a biography that will charm you plenty. If
that seems like a winner for you, then Keep Your Airspeed
Up is a pretty big book.