Actress and playwright Kim Russell was an adult when she finally got to know her mother, who died when Russell was just 2 months old.
Her father, Bernard Knighten, never spoke of his first wife, Luana.
“He never shared stories, never said I looked like her, unless prompted to by my aunts,” says Russell, author of Tuskegee Love Letters (www.tuskegeeloveletters.com).
Eventually, though, he shared with her some letters he and Luana exchanged as young newlyweds during World War II. Bernard had been a Tuskegee Airman, one of the first 15 pilots in the pioneering all-African American flying squadron based in Tuskegee, Ala. Before its creation in 1941, blacks were not allowed to fly in the military.
Bernard was 23. In letters to Luana and his mother-in-law, he’s cocky, funny and clearly smitten with his beautiful wife. Luana, 21, was a bright and educated stenotypist from St. Louis, discovering a completely foreign way of life in the Deep South.
“This Tuskegee is the dirtiest place in the country,” she wrote to her mother. “You have taught me that everything in the world was nice and clean, or at least being around you, you have made things seem so, and it really hurts to find out that life isn’t really like that.” Continue reading