OTA Quentin P. Smith, Phd

order helvetica,sans-serif;”>Quentin Smith was born in Weldon, Texas. His father moved to East Chicago, Indiana to look for work – after what Smith describes as “difficulty with the deputy sheriff” – and the family joined him a couple of years later. Smith avoided the athletics department at Washington High School, preferring music instead. His school orchestra played at the 1933-34 World’s Fair in Chicago, where Smith met a young professional musician by the name of Nat King Cole – and talked him into playing their high school prom a year later.”

Most of my colleagues yearned to fly,” says Smith, “but I didn’t give a tinker’s damn if I ever left the ground.” He didn’t like mud, though, and his brother – who was in the infantry – reported that military service on the ground had plenty of mud. A friend of Smith’s had founded the Coffy School of Aeronautics in Chicago, and tried to talk Smith into signing up; he declined, but after receiving his draft notice, he reconsidered. (And it didn’t hurt that the Red Cross gave out two cartons of cigarettes for passing the test.)

Smith didn’t fly quite like anybody else in school, though – at 200 lbs., he pushed pedals differently from his 130 lbs. instructor. At that time, all military planes were assigned to white pilots, so Smith flew “primary” planes – service aircraft – and served as a flight instructor for “primaries” at the Tuskegee Institute. Later, since he was too big for a P-40 or a P-51, he was made a bomber pilot. It was difficult to assemble a full crew, though; black pilots were not allowed to command white crews under any circumstances, even white crewmen at the rank of private.

After spending time at Fort Knox, near Louisville, First Lieutenant Smith was transferred to Freeman Field in his home state of Indiana. As an officer, regulations said that Smith could enter any officers club, but black officers were barred from the club – along with the tennis court and swimming pool – at Freeman Field. A colonel informed them that they could use the facilities, but only before 1700 hours; in other words, only during hours when they’d be working anyway. “We booed him off the stage,” Smith recalls. He and the other black officers in the Air Corps were instructed to sign a new directive about the segregation of the officers clubs. Smith refused, along with 100 others, and they were confined to quarters. Three days later, an armed guard arrived; he and the other officers were sent to prison at Fort Leavenworth.

However, Fort Leavenworth, also segregated, wasn’t prepared to handle the sudden arrival of 101 black prisoners, so they were shipped back to Freeman Field. (“This was one time when segregation was pretty good,” says Smith.) The black officers who had signed the directive pooled their money and brought in a defense team led by Thurgood Marshall, who won their release. A little over two years later, Truman would sign the order to de-segregate the military. It was not for more than fifty years, however, through the intervention of several congressmen (and a fire that destroyed a records office), that the officers’ service records would be formally cleared of the reprimand from the incident.

Smith went on to earn a Masters degree in English.  West Side High School which was founded in Gary Indiana in 1968, could initially accommodate over 3,000 pupils, and was at the time, the largest high school in the state of Indiana. It was initially founded in order to integrate students within the Gary School System.  West Side is a compromised name which gave the general location of the school. However, some of the other names that were suggested for West Side were Paul Robeson, Martin Luther King, Malcom X Shabazz, and Nkhrumah, just to name a few. Since the school naming committee could not come to an agreement on another name, it was decided to keep the original name.

However, the Gary School Board did decide on April 23, 1968, that DOTA Quentin P. Smith would be the first principal of West Side. At that time, Mr. Smith was currently the principal at Pulaski Junior High School and would later become the director of secondary education for Gary, Indiana, where he lives today.

 

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