Maury Reid, 81; Active Alumnus of Tuskegee Airmen

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Maury Reid, one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen who were the nation's first black military pilots, has died. He was 81.

Reid died Tuesday at Bay Pines Medical Center near St. Petersburg, Fla., after a long illness, said his son, Maurice.

Reid trained at Tuskegee, Ala., as part of a segregated training program set up by the Pentagon during World War II. The training was rigorous; 992 men graduated as Tuskegee Airmen.

The black pilots were credited with shooting down more than 100 enemy aircraft and never losing an American bomber to enemy fighters. About 150 lost their lives in training or combat fights.

Injuries that Reid suffered when his plane crashed during a test flight prevented him from flying overseas missions during the war, his son said.

He remained active as a Tuskegee alumnus, speaking about the program at museums, schools and churches. He also appeared in "Silver Wings and Civil Rights," a 2004 documentary about the Tuskegee Airmen.

"He signed up before he finished high school," said Yenwith Whitney, who trained with Reid at Tuskegee.

"We knew very well for us to be in the Air Force there had been a long battle to overcome all the prejudices that existed," Whitney said. "It was all black as far as trainees were concerned, but the man who commanded the base was white. He was committed to seeing that the blacks got the best flight training possible."

After the war, Reid returned to New York, where he faced racial discrimination when he applied for jobs, his son said.

"There wasn't the opportunity for black pilots at that time to fly. Airlines wouldn't hire you. He tried it but quickly realized it was a pipe dream," Maurice Reid said.

Reid also fought segregation in his New York school district and won a lawsuit that allowed his children to move from an overcrowded black school to a predominantly white school with smaller class sizes, his son said.

Reid, who was born in Harlem, N.Y., worked for the New York Transit Authority for more than 35 years. He moved to Sarasota, Fla., in 1993.

In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife, Mae, and another son. His daughter died last year.

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