This month is Black History Month – one month dedicated to honoring the history and contributions of black Americans within the United States. At Sagora Senior Living, we’re honoring those who helped shape our nation, those who broke barriers and contributed to a more equal, more just America.
We’re blessed to have residents that broke barriers and this February, we want to showcase them. We’re thankful for all they shared with us.
Here are their stories.
Dr. Eugene D. – Adante Assisted Living (San Antonio, Texas)
In 1944, Eugene D., just a freshman, entered college at the University of Michigan, where he joined the school’s football team.
With a war waging overseas, the NCAA allowed freshmen to play varsity football and at just 18 years old, Eugene found himself playing a major role for one of the nation’s most famous college football programs. On Eugene’s first offensive play, he became the school’s first black starter in the offensive backfield – a highly visible role for an 18-year-old one year removed from playing high school football.
Under the spotlight, Eugene thrived. He led the Wolverines in total offense, helping them to an 8-2 finish and an appearance in the postseason top-10 poll.
After the season ended, however, the Army came calling. The nation was at war and it needed more soldiers. And while Eugene had played alongside white players at Michigan, he would have to serve in a segregated Army.
Originally part of the 16th Separate Training Battalion, Eugene heard about one of the Army’s elite aviation units during his training. Called the Tuskegee Airmen, the all-black unit had made a name for themselves in combat overseas. Eugene decided to volunteer to join them.
The war ended before he saw combat, but Eugene gained valuable skills that would help him later in life. After graduating from the Tuskegee pilot training program in 1946, he returned to Michigan, rejoining the football team. In his first game back, he threw a touchdown pass. That season, Eugene set a single-season record for interceptions.
In 1947 and 1948, Eugene carved out a niche as a punt returner and even started a game at quarterback. The Wolverines didn’t lose a game for the final two seasons of his career, winning national championships in both seasons.
Eugene finished his career as the school’s record holder in single-season punt return average, single-season punt return touchdowns, career punt return touchdowns and career interceptions. His single-season punt return average and punt return touchdown records still stand.
He was elected to the University of Michigan Hall of Fame in 1987.
Following his college days, Eugene was drafted again, this time by the Cleveland Browns. But a knee injury suffered during training camp cut his career short.
Eugene became a dentist following his football career, once again joining the military in this capacity. He served in Vietnam and retired in 1985, later working for the University of Texas Health Science Center.
In 2007, Eugene was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal as part of a ceremony that honored the Tuskegee Airmen.
Dewey B. – The Brennity at Fairhope Senior Living (Fairhope, Alabama)
Dewey was born in Butler, Alabama but moved to Mobile, Alabama as a child. While in Mobile, he befriended Henry “Hank” Aaron, a baseball player who would go on to break Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1974.
In the early 1950s, he joined the military, where he served with the Army and Air Force.
“I enjoyed all of them,” Dewey said about his military service.
All four of his brothers served in the Army too and they would all go on to work in government-related fields following their service.
They were among the first Black Americans to serve in a newly integrated military. He’s proud of his accomplishments and he says he’s also proud to see what other black Americans have done to further Civil Rights in America.
Dewey worked for Teledyne Technologies in Mobile for 21 years, where he built engine parts. His favorite memory was building a cutting-edge, massive engine that would go in one of the United State’s premier planes.
“It flew all around the world non-stop,” he said.
Dewey says he never faced too many hard times during his upbringing and his time in the military. And if he did, his family would have stepped in.
“I had four younger brothers, so nobody wanted to mess with us,” he said proudly.
Harry H. – The Brennity at Fairhope Senior Living (Fairhope, Alabama)
“I’m nothing but an old country boy from Illinois,” Harry H. says.
It’s a phrase that Harry H. says a lot. He’s proud of his upbringing and proud to have grown up “way out in the country” in the tiny, southern Illinois town of Mounds – population 661.
Most of all, he’s proud of his heritage.
Harry’s father and mother carved out a self-sustaining existence on their farm. They grew or raised everything they needed – corn, potatoes and hogs. He’s proud that his mother only had to go into town once per week to get the only thing they couldn’t grow – a loaf of bread.
Despite lacking a formal education, Harry’s father knew how to make things grow and how to get the most out of their land. His work ethic and knowledge left a deep imprint on Harry.
“He was a smart old man,” Harry said.
Like Dewey, Harry served in the newly integrated Navy starting in 1950. Though he experienced segregation in Illinois, the structure of the Navy led to an environment where everyone was equal.
“You did what you were told,” he said. “Everyone had to do that.”
Harry is proud to be black, and he is proud to have helped break barriers and open new opportunities for those that came after him. He admires those who helped drive change, those who helped make things easier and more equal.
We are so proud to have residents like Harry, Dewey and Eugene in our communities. We are so happy to know people that helped break down walls and help each American have an opportunity at the American dream.
For more information about Sagora’s 61 communities, please visit our website.