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VA Clinic In Aurora Could Be Named For Tuskegee Airman, CSU Football Player

john_mosley_portrait.jpg
Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library
Photo of Air Force Lt. Col. John Mosley, a Tuskegee Airman.

A congressman and community supporters are rallying behind the idea of naming a Veterans Affairs health clinic after John Mosley, a Denver native who became one of the military’s first Black pilots as a Tuskegee Airman during World War II.

“There was a way in through the military because of resources, because of reach, because of access,” his grandson, John-Claude Futrell, said. “There was a world of opportunity there and he did his best to take advantage and make sure that other people also had access as well.”

Rep. Jason Crow recently introduced legislation to name a VA community-based outpatient clinic that is set to open next summer in Aurora the Lt. Col. John W. Mosley Clinic.

“Frankly, I was just blown away by so many aspects of his story, how compelling it was,” Crow said. “Three separate wars over a period of decades and then coming back to Colorado, continuing to lead in civil rights and community leadership.”

John Mosley was born in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood in 1921 and passed away at the age of 93. The Colorado he grew up in was marked by racial discrimination — from swimming pools to restaurants.

He went to what is now called Denver’s Manual High School, where he delivered the valedictorian address to his graduating class in 1939. Then he enrolled at what is now Colorado State University in Fort Collins on a National Merit Scholarship, according to Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library archives. He joined CSU’s football team at a time when there were no Black players and is considered the first Black player on the team in the modern era. He was elected vice president of his graduating class.

john_mosley_wrestling.jpg
Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library
John Mosley (front row, third from right) from his days on Denver’s Manual High School’s wrestling team.

When the United States became mired in World War II, Mosely knew how he wanted to serve his country.

“He wanted to be a pilot,” Futrell said. “So he paid for his own pilot’s lessons. Once Tuskegee was formed, he was very excited about that.”

In 1941, the Army Air Corps set up the extremely arduous flight school in Tuskegee, Alabama — the only one in the military to give Black pilots a chance. Mosley set his sights on joining by becoming qualified as a pilot and then taking flight lessons, but he got disappointing news in 1943 after he graduated CSU and entered the Army. He was told to report to an artillery unit in Oklahoma.

“So he had to contest that and really push and fight to be a Tuskegee Airman,” Futrell said.

Mosley wrote letters to the White House and to members of Congress.

“It wasn't just him,” Futrell added. “It was this entire community. It was basically Five Points that came to his aid in writing letters and so rallying this entire community behind this idea that one of their sons could be a pilot.”

The letters worked. Mosley became one of about 1,000 pilots and navigators to complete training with the Tuskegee Airmen, a program that helped kickstart integration for the military.

After the war, Mosely returned to Denver and went to graduate school at Denver University, getting a degree in social work. For several years, he worked with boys and young men at the YMCA in Denver and in Kansas.

In the early 1950s, he was called back to service for the Korean War and joined the Air Force, a place where he saw possibility, Futrell said.

“I felt like he felt that the military gave an opportunity where a lot of other institutions did not, even in its discrimination and its systemic racism,” he said.

To this day, the military contends with those issues. Last year, a Department of Defense board identified barriers to racial and ethnic inclusion in the ranks and issued recommendations, including increasing inclusion in military culture and addressing barriers troops of color face to advancement, particularly the top jobs among officers.

Mosley retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1970 and then became a special assistant within the Department of Health and Human Services, helping shape national policies.

To Futrell, Mosley was the kind of man who gave “both love and tough love.” Mosley eventually settled down in a home in Aurora with his wife and high school sweetheart, Edna, who became the first Black member of the city council. Futrell came to live with them as a kid from New York.

“He would have us up in the morning every day at 5:30, regardless if there's a weekend or not, to make our beds and then go downstairs because grandmother would be working on breakfast. And we'd sit down at the table, no TV in sight, and have conversations about the previous day and what the day ahead was going to bring,” Futrell said. “And then it was work. And it didn't matter what kind of work it was. You know, my grandfather, he also taught us the value of a dollar. He taught us the value of respect, both giving and gaining.”

Supporters for naming the Aurora VA clinic after Mosley include Capt. Eric Mosley of United Airlines, Mosley’s son; Barbara Green, Colorado State Commander for the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization; and Omar Montgomery, president of the Aurora Branch of the NAACP.

The push comes as the Department of Veterans Affairs faces scrutiny over the symbolism of some of its facilities, including several named after 1950s era school segregationists and a Virginia medical center named after Confederate Dr. Hunter Holmes McGuire, a supporter of slavery. Last year, three of McGuire’s descendants acknowledged in a Richmond Times-Dispatch op-ed that some of McGuire’s writings were “hurtful and flawed,” saying they supported calls to remove McGuire’s name from buildings and institutions.

A request from KUNC for comment from VA Secretary Denis Richard McDonough was not answered by deadline.

Crow said he wasn’t aware of the names of other VA facilities, including one for a Confederate doctor.

“I’m not surprised that that’s the case,” Crow said. “Obviously there’s a long history and legacy of folks who have had their names attached to buildings or facilities and they either have not been fully vetted or the standards at the time were maybe different than they are now. Thankfully, so that we now are looking at things in a more honest and authentic and, I think, real way. And it should change. It just shouldn’t be.”

Crow said the next step in the effort to name the clinic after Mosley is to get required support from every member of Colorado’s House delegation.

“We’re going to go through getting co-sponsorships, getting committee hearings the rest of this year,” he said. “It’s possible that it will push over to next year, but we’re hoping that it won’t.”

A public school in Aurora, the Edna and John W. Mosley P-8, is named for the Mosleys. And Mosley’s name was a finalist in the controversy over Denver’s former Stapleton neighborhood — now Central Park — which bore the name of a former mayor who was in the Ku Klux Klan.

Asked what the Mosleys would think of the effort to name a VA clinic for his grandfather, Futrell laughed, saying that his grandparents were not the kind of people who wanted to be the center of attention. They just wanted to work hard and do good, he said.

“I think they'd be pretty upset about it, to be honest,” he said. “But then I am unapologetic about it and I wouldn't care because I believe that the work that they did is work that not only should be celebrated, but remembered. And that's how people remember things. Right? With symbols.”

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