"At the Air Force Academy: Festival of Black Culture."
Commander's Digest. Vol. 12, no. 2. Washington, D.C. GPO, May 18, 1972. P. 10-11.
SuDoc No.: D2.15/2
An article about the Festival of Black Culture held on January 13-16, 1972 at the Air Force
Academy near Colorado Springs, Colorado. The festival, run by African-Americans, served as a
means to open lines of communication. An Air Force film called "Black Man,"
performances by the Supremes, and a speech by Dick Gregory were among the highlights
of the event.
At the Air Force Academy: Festival of Black Culture.
"I kind of expected to hear people yell and preach on how rotten the military was and all
the rotten bigots all over the place," said Cadet Fourth Class Robert Heath after it was
over. Instead, he said he was "very impressed... I think they (the black cadets) worked
at it the right way."
Cadet Fourth Class Heath is a white "freshman" at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He was
talking about the Festival of Black Culture held Jan. 13-16 at the Academy, located near
Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The festival was the first of its kind to be held at one of the country's Service Academies.
It featured four days of speeches, seminars, displays and entertainment aimed at informing the
white cadets about black culture.
Black cadets who organized the festival believe that it made progress toward achieving racial
understanding in the Air Force, especially among fellow students in the Cadet Wing.
"I talked to some of the white cadets, and they really felt that the festival was very
educational to them and entertaining, which was our goal," said Cadet Second Class
(junior) Ernest E. Butler Jr., a festival organizer. "I feel they all learned from this.
I learned myself," he added.
Highlights of the festival were a keynote speech by comedian and civil rights worker Dick
Gregory; a panel discussion on "Blacks in the Military"; a show featuring The Supremes
recording artists; a cadet dance with music by a black rock group; and a religious service in
the cadet chapel.
Also on the program were a performing arts session which featured African dancing and poetry;
a fashion show of African and contemporary dress; sculpture and woodcarving demonstrations for
cadets enrolled in fine arts; and showings of a new Air Force film entitled
Most of the four-day program was for cadets and their guests only, but some of the events were
open to the public. One such public event was the keynote speech by Dick Gregory. The civil
rights worker charged the cadets and other members of their generation with the responsibility
for solving social problems such as poverty and racial prejudice. He also said the time in
which they could accomplish those tasks was growing short.
"Violence is not the answer – the most it can give you is short-term gains,"
The forum for the cadets on "Blacks in the Military" was headed by a panel of five
black airmen and a Department of Defense civilian official. Panel members included Air Force
Brigadier General Daniel "Chappie" James, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense
(Public Affairs); Curtis R. Smothers, Director of Equal Opportunity (Military), Department
of Defense; and Master Sergeant William Speight, on of the Air Force's 12 Outstanding Airmen
Gen. James said the military's realization that there are racial problems in the Services is
encouraging, but "it shouldn't take 365 committees to stop a man from being
mistreated." He added that the major responsibility for eliminating racial injustice
lies with commanders.
Mr. Smothers agreed with Brig. Gen. James that a commander was not fit to command unless he
was committed to achieving racial equality for his men and women. "We must get this kind
of cancer out of the system," he said. The enlisted members of the panel said the Air
Force should place concern for people on the same priority level as its mission to defend the
The film, "Black Man," was shown continuously throughout the festival. The film
features black officers and enlisted men stationed in the United States and overseas discussing
what it means to be black in the Air Force. The film will become a part of the race relations
education courses required for all airmen.
Reaction by Air Force officers and cadets to the festival was favorable.
"On the basis of its success, it could become an annual affair," said Brigadier
General William T. Woodyard, Dean of the Air Force Academy faculty.
"The most important thing about this whole festival, to me," Gen. James said,
"is the courage of the Superintendent of the Academy, Lieutenant General A. P. Clark,
to approve this program... I know many commanders would be very hesitant to approve such a
Credited with the idea for the festival was Cadet Second Class Bob Gilbert, who said,
"This was a genuine attempt to try to communicate with our white classmates... I'm
happy it was a success, and I'll be even more satisfied if a festival can be held annually
until we no longer need them to establish a basis of communication."