SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) — Since the mid-1970s, the United States has recognized Black History Month – also known as African-American History Month. The month-long celebration each February started at educational institutions, and black and community centers as a way to recognize and honor the contributions of African Americans to history and culture.
Our News 8 archives hold many stories from past Black History Months and we’ve collected a few to share including pieces on the first African-American - and woman - appointed Assistant Chief in the San Diego Police Department and the first African-American city councilmember in San Diego.
During Black History Month in 1996, News 8 featured a local veterans group that wanted to share their stories of African Americans in the military. Black fighter pilots that took down more than 400 German aircraft during World War II would famously be known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
News 8 reporter Maria Velasquez interviewed George Mitchell - a radio communication instructor at the Tuskegee Army air base. Mitchell shared pictures and memories from his time serving in the military. One of his students Louis Murray - a fighter and bomber pilot - also spoke about the lack of jobs for black pilots following the war. Another veteran Nelson Robinson shared his memories of being segregated within the military and the discrimination the pilots endured.
The U.S. military's first black pilots were honored in San Diego County during Black History Month 2013. A three-mile stretch of Interstate 15 near MCAS Miramar was dedicated to the Tuskeegee Airmen. Several of the airmen were able to attend the unveiling which News 8 captured.
In February 1994, News 8 profiled several African-American leaders in San Diego in honor of Black History Month. Reporter Graham Ledger interviewed Rulette Armstead, who began her career as a San Diego Police Department beat cop. She went on to become the first African-American appointed to Captain in the department and also the first woman and African-American to be named Assistant Chief of Police.
Rulette talked about the struggles of balancing work and family life early in her career. She also spoke about her desire to be a role model and to inspire African-Americans and women.
For Black History Month in 1994, News 8's Graham Ledger interviewed long-time civic leader Leon Williams who was planning to retire after 25 years of public service. Leon was the first African-American appointed to the San Diego City Council where he served three terms. He went on to serve another three terms on the San Diego Board of Supervisors.
Leon spoke to News 8 about his approach to leadership and involving members of the community.
During Black History Month in 1994, News 8's Maria Velasquez interviewed world-renowned pianist Cecil Lytle. Cecil talked about his first professional lessons by a Russian master, "He spoke no English, and I spoke no Russian, but we translated through the medium of music."
Following a illustrious recording and touring career playing jazz and classical music, Cecil came to San Diego as the Provost of Thurgood Marshall College at UCSD. In addition to sharing his thoughts on the power of music and what it meant to be successful, Cecil also showcased some of his musical talents in the throwback reel.