Twelve Tuskegee Airmen — who battled Nazis and the systematic racism of the 1940’s military — worked for New York City Transit upon returning from World War II.
Reginald Brewster — one of the two surviving former transit workers — attended the ceremony with his son and grandson.
He received a standing ovation, then delivered an off the cuff speech.
“Thank you so much for making this such a beautiful and such a momentous occasion, one that I will never forget,” said Brewster, 94, who was stationed in France during WWII.
The former transit clerk said that he was “living testimony the color of your skin does not determine your mental capacity or your character.”
The remarkably spry Brewster — a recently retired lawyer and classically trained pianist who speaks five languages — also urged the crowd to be thankful for everything this country has to offer.
“I ask each and every one of you to be proud . . . that you are able to live in a country of freedom where the ability to forge ahead is only limited by your determination to forge ahead,” he said.
After the ceremony, he signed his autograph on programs for many of the bus drivers who work at the depot.
His 14 year-old grandson watched his speech from the front row.
“I’m really proud of my grandfather,” said Roland Brewster, an eighth grader at the Dalton School on the Upper East Side.
“He paved the way for African Americans.”
Roscoe Brown — a Tuskegee Airman who went on to become director of the City University’s Center for Urban Education Policy — said that New York City Transit was one of the best employers for returning black World War II servicemen.
“You can’t understand just how segregated it was in 1946,” said Brown.
“People would tell you to your face we don’t hire Negroes here.”
New York City Transit was quick to hire the returning black soldiers, he said, in part because it recognized the enormous pool of talent.
“This is truly a great day . .. and the greatest day for those of us still here to enjoy it,” said Brown.
He did not work for transit but attended the ceremony to honor his friends who had.
“Transit opened doors,” he said.
In addition to renaming the former 100th Street Depot, the MTA also installed a bronze plaque outside the state-of-the-art facility commemorating the 12 heroic workers.
The other surviving former transit worker Noel Harris, who was born in 1925, was too ill to attend the ceremony.
All buses that leave from that depot will have a Tuskegee Airmen decal on its side.
“All these men were heroes in war and they were heroes after the war in New York City Transit when they served all of the people of the city of New York,” said MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota.
The legendary group of airmen all trained as pilots in segregated Tuskegee, Ala.
Those well-trained soldiers eventually performed so well in battle that historians credit the pilots with leading to the desegregation of the military.
Their undisputed heroism was also a catalyst for the modern civil rights movement.
Harriet Dickenson attended the ceremony in memory of her late father, a Tuskegee Airman who was a deputy chief engineer at NYC Transit.
“I’m very honored,” she said.
Harry Dickenson spoke often of his time as a pilot, and kept in touch with the other airmen throughout his life.
“I grew up on the stories,” she said.
Some were not so pleasant.
“They were officers, but some of the white privates wouldn’t salute them out on the street,” said Dickenson.
She described her father as a “well-rounded” man who loved mentoring young people, and instilled in her from an early age the importance of a good education.
She’s now a doctor who works for the MTA helping injured employees.