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Alexander Jefferson

Alexander Jefferson was born on November 15, 1921, in Detroit Michigan, the first child of Alexander Jefferson and Jane White Jefferson. His great-grandfather William Jefferson White was born to a slave woman and a white slave owner in the 1830s. Jefferson’s grandfather became a minister, and in 1867, opened an all black school for boys in Augusta, Georgia, which trained its students exclusively for the ministry and pedagogy. Jefferson’s grandfather moved the school to Atlanta, Georgia, where the name changed from Atlanta Baptist Seminary to Atlanta Baptist College. Today, it is known as Morehouse College.

Jefferson grew up in a Polish neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan, and attended Craft Elementary School, Condon Intermediate School, and Chadsey High School. While in school, Jefferson spent most of his time in the biology and chemistry laboratories, at home reading from his mother’s extensive library, and building model airplanes. He graduated from Chadsey High School in 1938 as the only African-American to take college preparatory classes. Jefferson received his B.A. degree in 1942 from Clark College in Atlanta. On September 23, 1942, he was sworn into the United States Army Reserves. He volunteered for flight training but was not accepted immediately. In the mean time, Jefferson went to work as an analytical chemist for three months before entering graduate school at Howard University.

In April 1943, Jefferson received orders to report to Tuskegee Army Air Field to begin flight training. He graduated as a second lieutenant in January 1944 and was classified as a replacement pilot for the 332nd Fighter Group. Jefferson continued his training at Selfridge Army Air Field Base, where he was under the instruction of First Lieutenants Charles Dryden and Stan Watson, who had flown in combat in 1943 in North Africa with the all-Black 99th Fighter Squadron. In June 1944, Jefferson’s orders sent him to Ramitelli Air Base in Italy, where Colonel Benjamin O. Davis was the 332nd Fighter Group Commander. Jefferson flew eighteen missions before being shot down and captured on August 12, 1944. He spent eight months in the POW camp at Stalag Luft III., and was eventually freed on April 29, 1945.

Jefferson returned to civilian life in 1947, received his teaching certificate from Wayne State University, and began teaching elementary school science for the Detroit Public School System. Jefferson received his M.A. degree in education in 1954. He was appointed assistant principal in 1969 and served the Michigan School System for over 30 years. In 1995, Jefferson was enshrined in the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame. In 2001, he was awarded the Purple Heart, and in 2007, he received the Congressional Gold Medal. Jefferson is one of the founders of the Detroit and National chapters of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Accession Number

A2007.192

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/29/2007 |and| 6/11/2010

Last Name

Jefferson

Maker Category
Schools

Chadsey High School

Craft Elementary School

Condon Intermediate School

Clark Atlanta University

Wayne State University

Howard University

First Name

Alexander

Birth City, State, Country

Detroit

HM ID

JEF04

Favorite Season

All Seasons

State

Michigan

Favorite Vacation Destination

Hawaii

Favorite Quote

Everybody In The World Is Crazy Except You And Me, And Sometimes I'm Not So Sure About You.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Michigan

Birth Date

11/15/1921

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Detroit

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Pork Chops (Fried)

Short Description

Education administrator Alexander Jefferson (1921 - ) trained for World War II at Tuskegee Army Air Field and flew eighteen missions during the war. He was shot down and captured on August 12, 1944 and spent eight months in the POW camp at Stalag Luft III. In 1947 Jefferson returned to civilian life and worked as an education and administrator in the Detroit Public Schools for over thirty years.

Employment

U.S. Army Air Corps

Duffield Elementary School

Pattengill Elementary School

Halley Elementary School

Ferry Elementary School

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Alexander Jefferson's interview, session 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Alexander Jefferson lists his favorites, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Alexander Jefferson lists his favorites, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Alexander Jefferson describes his mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Alexander Jefferson describes his mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Alexander Jefferson describes his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Alexander Jefferson describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Alexander Jefferson describes his sister

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Alexander Jefferson talks about his parents' influence on his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Alexander Jefferson describes his neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Alexander Jefferson recalls his African American neighbors in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Alexander Jefferson describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Alexander Jefferson recalls his grade school experiences

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Alexander Jefferson talks about building model airplanes

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Alexander Jefferson remembers his high school experiences

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Alexander Jefferson describes the Scott Memorial United Methodist Church in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Alexander Jefferson recalls his decision to attend Clark University in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Alexander Jefferson describes his experiences at Clark University

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Alexander Jefferson describes his training as a Tuskegee Airman

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Alexander Jefferson recalls lessons from his flight training in Tuskegee, Alabama

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Alexander Jefferson recalls his initial assignments in the U.S. Army Air Corps

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Alexander Jefferson recalls leaving the air base to visit Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Alexander Jefferson recalls the racial confrontations at the Selfridge Army Air Base, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Alexander Jefferson recalls the racial confrontations at the Selfridge Army Air Base, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Alexander Jefferson describes his duties as an escort pilot

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Alexander Jefferson recalls his transfer to the Walterboro Army Airfield in South Carolina

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Alexander Jefferson talks about his overseas deployment during World War II

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Alexander Jefferson describes the flight maneuvers of the 332nd Fighter Group

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Alexander Jefferson remembers Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Alexander Jefferson reflects upon the racial discrimination in the U.S. military

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Alexander Jefferson remembers his role in Operation Dragoon

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Alexander Jefferson recalls the downing of his plane over France

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Alexander Jefferson recalls being taken prisoner by German troops, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Alexander Jefferson recalls being taken prisoner by German troops, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Alexander Jefferson reflects upon becoming a prisoner of war

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Alexander Jefferson describes his interrogation as a prisoner of war

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Alexander Jefferson recalls being transported to Stalag Luft III in Germany

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Alexander Jefferson recalls his experiences at the Stalag Luft III war prison

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Alexander Jefferson recalls escape attempts from Stalag Luft III

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Alexander Jefferson talks about daily life at the Stalag Luft III POW camp

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Alexander Jefferson recalls how black officers were treated in German POW camps

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Alexander Jefferson recalls liberation day at Stalag VII-A

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Alexander Jefferson talks about how the Germans ran POW camps in World War II

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Alexander Jefferson recalls his treatment by white prisoners of war

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Alexander Jefferson recalls the liberation of the German concentration camps

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Alexander Jefferson recalls his return to the United States after World War II

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Alexander Jefferson recalls his marriage and move to Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Alexander Jefferson remembers adjusting to civilian life

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Alexander Jefferson describes his early teaching career

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Alexander Jefferson recalls his decision to become a school administrator

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Alexander Jefferson describes his civil rights activities

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Alexander Jefferson talks about serving as an assistant principal

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Alexander Jefferson reflects upon his career as an educator

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Alexander Jefferson recalls founding the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Alexander Jefferson remembers Detroit Mayor Coleman Young

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Alexander Jefferson remembers General Daniel "Chappie" James, Jr.

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Alexander Jefferson describes the purpose of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Alexander Jefferson remembers receiving the Congressional Gold Medal

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Alexander Jefferson reflects upon the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Alexander Jefferson reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Alexander Jefferson narrates his photographs

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Slating of Alexander Jefferson's interview, session 2

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Alexander Jefferson talks about his decision to join the Tuskegee Airmen

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Alexander Jefferson recalls his trainee class at the Tuskegee Army Airfield

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - Alexander Jefferson describes the training program at the Tuskegee Army Airfield

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - Alexander Jefferson recalls his assignment to the Selfridge Army Air Base in Michigan

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - Alexander Jefferson remembers segregation at the Selfridge Army Air Base

Tape: 10 Story: 7 - Alexander Jefferson recalls the Walterboro Army Airfield in South Carolina

Tape: 10 Story: 8 - Alexander Jefferson recalls his flight missions in Europe during World War II

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - Alexander Jefferson recalls his fighter plane being shot down over France

Tape: 11 Story: 2 - Alexander Jefferson recalls his encounters with German officers

Tape: 11 Story: 3 - Alexander Jefferson remembers Stalag Luft III in Sagan, Germany

Tape: 11 Story: 4 - Alexander Jefferson talks about traveling in Europe after World War II

Tape: 11 Story: 5 - Alexander Jefferson describes the Tuskegee Airmen's reputation during World War II

Tape: 11 Story: 6 - Alexander Jefferson recalls the discrimination against black pilots during World War II

Tape: 11 Story: 7 - Alexander Jefferson recalls his pastimes at the Stalag Luft III war prison

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$6

DAStory

1$7

DATitle
Alexander Jefferson recalls the downing of his plane over France
Alexander Jefferson recalls the liberation of the German concentration camps
Transcript
All right.$$Back to (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) You--$$--mission number nineteen.$$Okay.$$332nd [332nd Fighter Group; 332nd Expeditionary Operations Group] had the job of knocking out radar stations on the coast of southern France. And these radar stations would detect ships coming across the horizon for the invasion. The 301st [301st Fighter Squadron] had the target of Toulon [France], radar station sitting right on the cliff outside the City of Toulon. The 99th [99th Fighter Squadron] had a different station. The 99th had Montpellier [France]. The 302nd [302nd Fighter Squadron] had another one, all along the coast. And I'm number sixteen, four flights of four. We took off in the morning, flight from Ramitelli [Ramitelli Air Base, Italy], across Italy, across the gulf [Gulf of Taranto], the Mediterranean [Mediterranean Sea], past Corsica, out at Capri [Italy], and turn into the coast of southern France. We start in at about fifteen thousand feet, four flights of four, one right behind the other. And the first guys turn in, fifteen thousand feet, push everything to the wall, try to get some speed, had to go in and start firing with their fifty calibers, you went and pressed the trigger on the stick, and the fifty calibers would, they told us, oh, by the way we didn't understand what in the heck radar was, we didn't know what radar was. They simply said some buildings, some great big long towers, you go over and you shoot 'em up, that's it. This is before ballpoint pens, before nylons, before TV, before 45s by the way, 45 records [45 rpm record] hadn't even come out, don't talk about LPs. The first four guys go in and when they turn in, the whole side of the cliff becomes red with little black, red specks, anti-aircraft, twenty men over here, twenty, and twenty men over here, and 37mm. And the radio is alive. Second guy has followed, the fourth, first four guys get through, the second guys get through, the third get through and last of all, when we turn in, by that time, we had gone out so far to port, when we turn in we have to push everything to the wall to catch up. Run everything, we're doing about 420, fourth, we're maximum, and everything is red lined. Oil pressure, heat, and prop, instead of running at 1700 or 1800 rpm, I'm churning 2600 and 2700 rpm trying to catch up. The needle is bumping, I'm doing 420, 420, red line, what I'm not supposed to do. And by the time we get, I'm in, back in position, I saw number two, which is Danny [Robert T. Daniels], he got hit approximately a thousand yards off, maybe five hundred yards, little black speck, and out the corner of my eye I see him go off to the side. And I'm concentrating on aiming at a target, great big long towers, see these towers, and as I come in I start pressing trigger, and as I fire, going right across the top of the target, oh, hell, treetop height, something said boom, look up and there's a hole right there in the top of the canopy. I said, "What the hell?" And fire came up out of the floor. And naturally, as I tell young people, out of the nine months of training, you have not one minute on how to get out of an airplane. Instinctively today, I say, you pull back on the stick to get some altitude because I know I'm too low to bail out. Plus if I'm going too damn fast, you know, 420, 420, 420. Pull back on the stick to get some altitude, and as I pull up, reach up and on the instrument panel pull the little red knob and the canopy went off. Now, I don't know how high I got although I know I had gloves, your face's covered with oxygen mask, helmet, goggles and but it got hot, gloves were scorched, and I pulled up and you have straps here, straps here with a big buckle, when you hit it, they come loose, well, when I turned the stick loose, the nose popped, when you go up like this, you turn the stick loose, the nose wants to go back, so when the nose popped, I hit the buckle and I came out, and when the nose, I came out, centrifugal force. I remember the tail going by and I pulled the D ring, big D ring, because it connected with a cable. The parachute, we're sitting on the parachute, the parachute came out with me. And I remember looking at it, somebody stole the silk, god damn it. There was a rumor that somebody was taking the silk out of the parachutes, selling it to the Italians and stuffing the parachute with paper, by the way they finally caught him, it was happening. He did, I forgot who he was, some enlisted man. But I remember looking at it and (claps hands) boom, the parachute popped, when it popped, I'm in the trees. Number one and number three they get through, and I found out about a year ago, I forgot who my element leader was. Now, Ballard [Alton F. Ballard] was leading, Robert Daniels was number two, I forgot who number three was, that's my leader. Virgil Richardson wrote a book and he died about a year ago, in his book he says, he remembers Jefferson [HistoryMaker Alexander Jefferson], he looked back and Jefferson was gone, that's me, Virgil Richardson. When he got back to the squadron, he reported me as dead, he saw Robert Daniels go down in the water because Daniels was, he was scared to bail out.$So where did you leave to go after that point (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Sat around, we sat around Stalag VII-A [Moosburg, Germany]. That's, the next day when I took a trip down I saw Dachau. Somebody said, "Hey, Jeff [HistoryMaker Alexander Jefferson], there's a place down there with a lot of dead people." "What in the hell are you talking about?" "Man, they got people down there stacked up like up cordwood." So I'm curious. We got a jeep, we liberated the jeep, didn't steal it, we liberated it, we requisitioned it, (laughter) midnight requisition. And we went down to see this place where they had a lot of dead people. You could smell it a mile before you got to it. The ovens were still warm. The odor of burned human flesh, I'll never forget it. I remember pictures where they opened the oven, had a table covered with hair because before they burned the bodies, they had somebody cutting off the hair, great big long table, fifteen or twenty feet long, piled with hair, they used the hair for seat cushions. Long table covered with rings, before they burned the bodies they took the rings off, diamonds and gold. Table covered with dentures, somebody with a pair of pliers pulling the gold and amalgam out of these dead bodies. So many dead bodies they couldn't bury them all, so they took a bulldozer and dug a big trench, then you took and shoved all these dead bodies, arms and legs all over in the trench, covered it up with lime. Man's inhuman, I saw it, and somebody's gonna tell me that Dachau never happened, then I have to use some expletive deleted words to really express myself. Man's inhumanity to man. When I relate this to high school kids, "Oh, Mr. Jefferson, the Jews, the Germans killed so many Jews." I say, "Hey, wait a minute." Back up baby. What's going on today? You sit here fat, dumb, and happy, what happened in Bosnia? The kids look at me real funny. I don't know. Why is Milosevic [Slobodan Milosevic] prosecuted? What did the Bosnians do to the Serbs? What happened in Darfur [Sudan]? What happened in Burundi? Black kids have no idea what happened in Burundi, Tutsis and Hutus. Man's inhumanity to man.$$What were your thoughts? How did you feel when you, when you saw this (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Horrendous. I had no idea, you know, we were fat, dumb, and happy. Nineteen forty-four [1944], nobody knew about Dachau. People in the United States didn't know about Dachau. Now, some of the officials did, but plain, ordinary common Joe, we didn't know about Dachau, how the Germans were being, killing the Jews, the Hungarians, the Serbs. Today, well, when I was there, it was mind boggling, literally mind boggling, I couldn't believe it.$$Who were burying the bodies?$$The German, whoever the Germans were, burning the bodies.$$Okay. Now, you said there were bodies stacked up?$$Yeah.$$Now, this was after--$$They had been gassed and the bodies thrown out there, literally just like cordwood. And before they could take 'em and put 'em in the furnace and, and burn the bodies and get rid of 'em, the Germans had left, quite naturally they had left. They weren't there when we got there. But it's all part of, part of the story. And somebody was trying to tell me Dachau never happened, Belsen [Bergen-Belsen], Auschwitz, Buchenwald, da, horrendous, horrendous, horrendous. We stayed at Stalag VII for about four or five days, waiting for transportation to take us by air, we, four or five miles away to an air field, being flown to, up on the Baltic [Baltic Sea] to Le Havre [France] for transportation back by boat. And we went C-47s [Douglas C-47 Skytrain], I was in the group, C-47s. We landed at Verdun [France], and I got off, went to Paris [France], stayed in Paris for two weeks, I was AWOL [Absent Without Official Leave], until I went up to Le Havre and turned myself in. When I got to Le Havre, he said, have a seat. Nobody knew I was there.