Born in Delaware County, Pennsylvania on Feb 8, 1921
One of the original members of the historic Tuskegee Airmen’s 99th Fighter Squadron, Bernard Shaw Proctor was born in Delaware County, Pennsylvania on February 8, 1921. Growing up, he lived with both parents and had an older brother and a younger sister. His father was skilled in the industrial arts and helped build the house Proctor lived in as a child. This experience would later influence Proctor’s academic endeavors and civilian career. Sadly, Proctor’s mother passed away when he was ten years-old and his father died in 1939, just before his junior year in college.
Proctor attended an elementary school where students were integrated and the faculty was all White. He learned about racism in those early years when he found that the teachers would comfort a White child who had fallen on the playground, but not him. Junior High School was a more positive experience. Both students and staff were integrated and the principal was Black. Proctor particularly enjoyed weekly sessions where boys would have a chance to talk with a male teacher and girls had time with a female teacher. He says he learned a lot from those discussions.
Proctor attended Darby High School, where he played baseball and football. He again experience racism and struggled under one coach, but was mentored by another and improved his game. He eventually became quarterback and attended college on a baseball and football scholarship.
After graduating from high school at age 16, Proctor attended Wilberforce University in Ohio, where he majored in industrial arts. At that time, all male students were required to participate in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC). It was in the Wilberforce ROTC program where he first met General Benjamin O. Davis, Junior, one of the first African Americans to earn his “wings” in the Army Air Force. Proctor later served under Davis during World War II.
Proctor graduated from Wilberforce in June of 1941 at the age of twenty. Too young to receive a military commission, he took a job coaching at Campbell College in Jackson, Mississippi. While there, Pearl Harbor was bombed and Proctor returned home in anticipation of being commissioned as soon as he turned 21.
On February 17, 1942, Proctor was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Infantry Reserves. Later that year, he received orders to report to the Tuskegee Army Airfield in Alabama. Then, on July 24th, he was assigned to the 99th Pursuit Squadron and put in charge of the mess hall.
On April 2, 1943, the 99th Squadron left Tuskegee, Alabama for New York where they would be assigned to the military transport ship, USS Mariposa. Their travels included Casablanca, French Morocco, other parts of northern Africa, and parts of Italy.
Later, the squadron was assigned to the 79th Fighter Group airfield, where Proctor remembers the day they were integrated, including the pilots. Proctor also remembers the day the 99th squadron shot down eight enemy aircraft, and destroyed the myth that African Americans did not have the skills for combat.
When the War ended in April of 1945, Proctor stayed in Italy, and continued his job as the mess officer. A few months later, Proctor made his own history. Of the 42 officers in the 99th squadron that left Tuskegee, Alabama on April 2nd, 1943 for World War II, Proctor was the last original officer to leave the squadron on August 18th, 1945 at Lucera, Italy. As of November 2003, when Proctor participated in the NVLP interview, nine of the 42 officers were still alive and Proctor has been in touch with many of them.
After World War II, Proctor returned to Wilberforce where he served as football and baseball coach and taught industrial arts courses. In 1946, he enrolled in Ohio State University where he earned a masters degree in 1948 and a doctorate of Philosophy in 1950. In 1947, Dr. Proctor married his wife, a Wilberforce graduate whom he met at a homecoming game. They had one child, Carl, who was born in 1956.
Dr. Proctor’s career progressed as he held positions teaching undergraduate and graduate courses at Hampton Institute, in Hampton, Virginia; Florida A&M University in Tallahassee; and Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, where he served as Dean of the College of Technology until December, 1965. He then went to Cheyney University in Cheyney, Pennsylvania, where he became head of the Department of Industrial Arts and then Academic Vice President. Dr. Proctor resigned from Cheyney University in 1991.
For his service, Proctor has received numerous military awards, including twelve battle stars, three distinguished unit citations, and the European-African-Middle Eastern ribbon.
URL (Click to bookmark): http://www.visionaryproject.org/proctorbernard