The Cunningham Story
Chapter 1: Genesis
The Cunningham Story actually began before World War II. And the Story begins with the Davidson Family, of Kokomo, Indiana. You see, the two daughters in the Davidson family both married Tuskegee Airmen. Daisy Davidson married John McClure, also of Kokomo, just after his completion of flight training in Tuskegee, Alabama. Winifred Davidson married John O. Cunningham, also a Tuskegee trained pilot, just after WW II was over.
But even before the two sisters married there was aviation in and around Kokomo. Barnstorming had become an attraction in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Flight schools grew everywhere. Because there was segregation in this country, Black flight schools had to develop to provide flight training for Black people. One of the pilots lived in Kokomo and flew around the area. His name was Lewis Jackson [photo below]. Lewis owned or built his own airplane, and he would fly around the area. This was always a draw to the local Black population.
On one occasion Winifred Davidson was attending one of Lewis Jackson’s flying exhibitions. After Lewis had landed his airplane, he had left the airplane and was crossing a fence when the fence caught and tore the stockings that Winfred was wearing. Lewis felt so bad about the incident that he offered to take Winifred up in his airplane. Winifred agreed and was introduced to flight for the first time.
I mention Lewis Jackson because he became director of training at the Army Air Force 66th Flight Training Detachment, where, under his guidance, three groups of Tuskegee Airmen ranked first among the 22 schools in the Southeast Army Air Corps Training Command. Prior to the war, Lewis joined with Cornelius Coffey and formed the Cornelius Coffey and Jackson Flying School in Chicago. Some time after the war, Lewis became a PHD and later became President of Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio near Xenia, Ohio. The local airport in Xenia has been named after him. It is now named the Green County - Dr. Lewis Jackson Regional Airport.
Chapter 2: John and Daisy McClure
Prior to Daisy marrying John McClure, she had to travel from Kokomo to Tuskegee. Young women did not travel alone, especially young women of color, and into the South. So her sister, Winifred, traveled with her. During their stay in Tuskegee, before the wedding, they would look out of the room they were staying in near the Tuskegee Campus and see George Washington Carver walking up and down the street.
John McClure graduated with Class 42-G, and was designated as a fighter pilot. This was the 4th class to graduate Black pilots, in which all the graduates were placed into the newly forming 99th Fighter Squadron. Several classes later, after the 99th got 33 pilots together, they were ready to do their part in the war effort. The pilots were issued P-40 Warhawks to fly their combat missions. It was the exploits of the 99th in North Africa and Sicily that gave the notoriety back home for the US Government to form the 100th, 301st and 302nd Fighter Squadrons made up of all Black pilots. The four fighter squadrons formed the 332nd Fighter Group. As they say, the rest is history!
Yet, somewhere along the journey of the 99th, John McClure crashed his P-40. It was said he was the first to survive a P-40 crash. All previous P-40 pilots that crashed in their planes had died. John McClure nearly died as well. He had injuries that kept him from flying later combat missions, injuries that eventually took his life. After the war was over, he and Daisy moved with the 99th to Columbus, Ohio. Some time after that he went into surgery to correct a minor problem that had affected him from the crash. He went into shock and never recovered from it. This was in the 1950’s.
Chapter 3: The Cunningham Legacy
For the last three generations this branch of the Cunningham family has been involved in the military. First, was John O. Cunningham, who leads by being a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, followed by son, David, who was a Viet Nam War veteran. And following her dad and grandfather, David’s daughter, Joi, carried on this legacy in the Middle East wars, partly in Iraq and partly in Afghanistan.
For John, the wars meant a fight for the freedom for all Americans as well as a change for the betterment of the African Americans at home. For David, the war meant supporting the Nation and the war effort during one of the most turbulent times in American history. That time was during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Both John and David became military men under the times of the draft to fill the military needs of the country. Joi came along during a time when this country came under attack and our military was all filled with volunteers.
Chapter 4: John O. Cunningham
The Cunningham Legacy all began when John O. Cunningham was drafted into the Army in 1941. As an African American, in a segregated country and a segregated military, John came in as an enlisted man and soon grew to be a Surveyor in the Army. Having one year of college gave him an advantage when the need for pilots came up in his area. These pilots were a different kind than the famous Red Tail fighter pilots being trained in Tuskegee, Alabama.
John’s assignment was in Michigan. There was a need in the US Army for Liaison, Forward Observation pilots. These pilots would have the job of flying out over different areas and locating the enemy and directing artillery cannon fire toward them. You see, artillery by itself was ineffective. There was always the need for ‘eyes’ to find the enemy, either from the ground or by air, and for the cannon fire to be directed upon them. John was trained to locate the enemy and to direct the artillery fire from the air.
From August to November, 1942, John was transferred to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to attend Officer Candidate School (OCS). From August to November, 1943, John attended Basic Flight training in Tuskegee, Alabama. This gives him the official title of an Original Tuskegee Airman. He returned to spend 2 months in Field Artillery School in Fort Sill, before going to combat against the Japanese in the South Pacific. He was assigned to the 93rd Infantry Division (segregated), 594th Field Artillery Battalion (also segregated). It was here where he was awarded the Air Medal in1945 for his part in the liberation of the Southern Philippine Islands. He also received the Good Conduct Medal, WW II Victory Medal as well as a Philippine Island Presidential Unit Citation. All of this was done within a segregated military.
The short story has John exiting the Army in December, 1945. He soon returned to the Army as an enlisted man (The Army no longer had the need for pilots and officers). By this time he was married and opted to bring his bride to Occupied Japan with him, where his son, David, was born. In 1951, the Korean War flared up and John was once again called up to be an officer and pilot to assist the war effort in Korea. The Korean War was the first war where the military was not segregated. Truman’s presidential order 9981 (1948), had declared the military as integrated.
After the war in Korea was over, John learned to fly helicopters and was moved to places such as North Carolina, Germany and Kansas. Lastly, he was ordered to the Air National Guard in Northern Ohio, where he spent his final six years in the military. As Air Advisor, John continued to fly fixed wing aircraft, helicopters, instructed and gave check rides to pilots in the Air National Guard. John O. Cunningham retired from the Army Reserves as a Major in 1962. Unfortunately, John died of heart failure in May of 1969.
Note: All of the above information came from his military records and can be confirmed.
Chapter 5: David O. Cunningham
Born to John O. Cunningham and Winifred G. Davidson Cunningham, David came into this world in Yokohama, Japan, in 1949. The son of a WW II and Korean War veteran, David spent his early years traveling with his parents until they settled in Southern Ohio, where he finished high school in 1968. A short stint in college, David found this was not for him. While he was out of college, his father passed away. It was during this time David found out he was a prime candidate for the draft the military had to supply the needs for the war in Viet Nam.
When David turned 18 the year before his high school graduation, he knew he had to take the Selective Service exam. He must have scored well because the US Navy offered to train him in whatever he wanted to do. While in Recruit Training boot camp, David selected Avionics as his path. He opted for the advanced training which gave him an extra three years in the Navy. That gave him a total of seven years with the US Navy. It was worth it for him.
After completing Basic and Advanced Avionics training, David learned a specific aircraft computer system that would take him aboard the US aircraft carrier, USS Midway (CV-41). During the two and a half years aboard this aircraft carrier, David spent eleven months (March, 1972 thru February, 1973) off the coast of Viet Nam, supporting the war effort there. Afterwards, he home ported in Yokosuka, Japan, with the carrier in the fall of 1973. David was able to bring his new bride, Dora, with him where she spent a year in Japan with him.
After completing seven years in the Navy, David chose to separate and use his good conduct separation to find employment in Silicon Valley (San Jose), where he has lived ever since. David and Dora raised a daughter, Joi, and a son, John. Both children are doing very well in their lives. David worked in Silicon Valley for 25 years before settling into a government position with the FAA. In all, David has used his military avionics training for 48 years.
David joined the Bay Area Black Pilots Association in 1992, where he gained the support of other members to pursue his lifelong goal of becoming a pilot. This goal he accomplished by gaining his pilot’s license in October, 2003. David discovered this accomplishment was within a few days of exactly 60 years after his father completed his Basic Flight Training in Tuskegee, Alabama. You see, David decided to go to Tuskegee to complete his Private Pilot Check Ride. David passed his check ride!
Approximately 15 years ago, David joined the local Bay Area Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. At that time their name was the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter. For the last 10 years, David has supported the goals of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. (TAI), as the local San Francisco Bay Area’s William “Bill” Campbell Chapter President. Since his dad had been one of the Original Tuskegee Airmen, it has been an enjoyable and rewarding task. TAI has two goals: First, to remember what the Tuskegee Airmen have done for this country. That is, to fight against this country’s enemies, including the racism that has divided this nation in the past; Second, to inspire youth, especially the at-risk, minority youth, to pursue aviation careers. The Bill Campbell Chapter hosts an annual Summer Flight Academy for two weeks, where selected youths receive the Tuskegee Airmen Story, a basic flight ground school and will then receive actual flight training from certified flight instructors. This is a free service to the students. But the number of students selected is limited by the amount of money available for the flight training.
Chapter 6: Join K. Cunningham- Spencer
Joi K. Cunningham was born into a peaceful and free life located in the heart of Silicon Valley. She grew into a fine young lady, attended local schools and made many friends. After taking a Black College Tour into the South, she chose to attend Tuskegee University. Little did her family know her interest in the Air Force ROTC program that the University had.
Joi spent her first two years at Tuskegee in the AFROTC program. Unfortunately for the Air Force, she passed the Navy test for the Officer’s Candidate School (OCS). After completing her 4-year program in Tuskegee, Joi went into Navy OCS and NFO training. In the NFO program she would pursue and pass the requirements to go on to become an Aviation Navigator, or, as it was called, Naval Flight Officer School (NFO). She then went to Jacksonville, Fla., Hawaii for more training and would go on to the Middle East.
After completing her tour to the Middle East, and returning to her duty station in Hawaii, Joi witnessed the upcoming end-of-life of the P-3 Orion aircraft she was trained on. She needed to find a new direction within the Navy. It was about that time she met and fell in love with her husband, Kenny Spencer, a former Navy man himself. Part of her attraction to him was the fact that he was also a motor cyclist as she also was.
Joi earned a chance to go on to the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, CA, where she earned her Master’s degree. From there she moved into her new role in the Naval Reserves and relocated to San Antonio, Texas. She and her family have bought a home there and plan to stay there for a very long time. Joi is still an active Naval Reservist.
Source: David Cunningham
Joseph Curl (1873-1943)
An advocate of recreational activities and firm Baptist deacon. Joe Curl assisted in the organization of the Yellow Springs Youth Council in 1936, and served on the executive committee until his death.
Joe Curl was born in Yellow Springs in 1873, and was employed by the Hercules Powder Company for nearly 30 years before joining Antioch College as a custodian. From 1893 to 1905, he coached the Antioch baseball team, which came to be known as the ‘Yankees of Southern Ohio’. An unusual feature of this ball club was the catcher—Joe Curl—as it was permitted for the coach to participate in the starting line-up. He gained national fame as a catcher, though he never joined a big-league team.
As an ordained deacon in the Baptist church, Curl’s training of community young men followed the principles of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA): train the mind and the body. In addition to skill in sports, he formed quartets of young men in both the Baptist and African American Episcopal (AME) churches locally.
Joe got along well with nearly everyone; and some said this could be attributed to his care to avoid disagreeing with people. On the contrary, it was also known that Joe stood his ground and did what he thought was right. He was one of the few blacks to confront whites with the same frankness and assertiveness he used with other blacks. That is one reason Curl gained the support of many white voters in Village Council elections.
Joe Curl’s civic and professional career were a testament to the democracy of a small town. He held a modest job and belonged to a disadvantaged race; yet he was one of the leading citizens of Yellow Springs for over 20 years.
Source: Phyllis Jackson
John S. and Julia A. Davis
John and Julia Davis bought a parcel of land at 655 Paxson Drive in Yellow Springs, Ohio, built a house on that land, and moved into that house on December 16, 1972. They had three children: John Sidney Davis II, Jeffrey Craig Davis, and Jennifer Nicole Grace Davis. John was employed as a Computer Specialist at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and Julia was a stay-at-home wife and mother. The family attended Central Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Yellow Springs.
John was devoted to his family, his job, and his church activities. He steadily moved up on his job during his 37 years of government service and was awarded the golden eagle for distinguished service upon his retirement. He spent quality time with his wife and children, and he directed the choir at Central Chapel A.M.E. Church. John coached his sons’ soccer teams and he worked with their Boy Scout troops. John also liked to garden. He raised beautiful green beans, tomatoes, greens, okra, peppers, peas, carrots and corn. John also cultivated roses and he created a flower tree in his front yard. The “flower tree” was made by cutting out the top of a dying tree. He put nails in the tree and hung beautiful flower baskets on each nail. People from miles around came to see and admire John’s flower tree.
When Jennifer was in the 3rd grade at Mills Lawn Elementary School, Julia accepted a teaching position at Yellow Springs High School. She taught World History, American History, and Advanced Placement American History. Her classes were lively and sprinkled with humor. Students from previous years often sat on the floor in her class to hear a particular lecture again. Each year, the valedictorian and salutatorian in Greene County high schools are asked to select the one teacher in their educational career who was most influential in their success. Julia was awarded the valedictorian/salutatorian award three times. In 1997, Julia resigned from her teaching position to write and publish history books for young readers.
The Davis children were educated in the Yellow Springs school system and they have done well for themselves. Jennifer has a Bachelor’s Degree from Hampton University and a Master’s Degree from Wright State University. She is a middle school special education teacher. Jeffrey has a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Based Information systems from Howard University. He is a senior programmer for the National Security Administration. John II has a Bachelor’s Degree from Howard University, a Master’s Degree, and a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. He is senior engineering fellow for the Rand Corporation.
Source: Julia A. Davis
Jim Felder was born in Orangeburg, South Carolina and was the eleventh of thirteen children, however only six lived to maturity. He attended the public schools in Orangeburg and was able to attend a local college, Clafin University, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree at age 20. In 1951, after graduation, he enlisted in the Air Force, eventually becoming an officer in charge of a hospital’s clinical laboratory. In 1954 he left active duty, but remained in the Air Force Reserve.
Felder attended graduate school at Ohio State University, and eventually obtained a Master’s degree in Biological Sciences from Wright State University. He had begun working in the medical field at 12 years old when he was hired as an orderly at an Orangeburg hospital. He spent one year as a microbiologist at Saint Elizabeth Hospital in Dayton, Ohio before accepting the same position at Middletown Hospital in Middletown, Ohio where he spent 31 years, retiring in 1991.
In 1955 Felder married Betty Thomas. The couple moved to Yellow Springs in 1962 where they raised their sons Gregory and Kevin. In Yellow springs Felder became active in many community organizations. He served as Vice President of the Junior Chamber of Commerce, helping to raise funds for the local library. He was Chairman of the local Red Cross Blood Drive. He was a member and actor with Yellow Springs Center State, and a singer on the Geri hart show on WPFB Middletown. He served as Chairman of the Human Relations Commission of Yellow Springs, and served at various times as Chairman and Co-Chairman of the annual Strawberry and Apple festivals hosted by First Presbyterian Church of Yellow Springs. He also served as a Session member for First Presbyterian. He has been a volunteer driver for the Yellow Springs Senior Center for more than 20 years. He was a member of the first group of coaches for the Yellow Springs soccer program. Felder won the Ohio Senior Olympic Men’s Raquetball Championship in 1996, and in 1997 was a member of Ohio’s team at the Senior Olympics held in Tucson, Arizona.
Source: James Felder
Betty Thomas Felder
Betty Thomas Felder was born in Toledo, Ohio, the oldest of three children. Her family moved to Dayton, Ohio in 1944 when her father accepted a position as Executive Director of the Linden Community Center.
Betty is a graduate of the University of Dayton and began her teaching career as the first African American teacher in the Mad River Township Public Schools followed by three years teaching in the Dayton Public Schools.
Betty and her husband James Felder moved to Yellow Springs in January of 1962 where she became active in the community in a variety of ways:
Co-founded Goes Play School along with Therese Greene in 1963;
Taught primary grades in the Yellow Spring Public Schools at Mills Lawn Elementary School for 18 years and served as Assistant Principal for 2 years;
Recipient in 1995 of Howard L. Post Excellence in Education Award from the Greene County Board of Education;
Named Teacher Emeritus in 2002 for service to the students of Mills Lawn School;
Board member at Yellows Springs Community Federal Credit Union;
Served on Yellow Springs Library Commission
Volunteered at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Dayton (now closed) teaching mothers of new babies how to massage their infants;
Co-chair of Strawberry and Apple festivals at Yellow Springs Presbyterian Church;
Member of art Committee at Yellow Springs Senior Center;
The Felders have two sons, four grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. They are among the original residents of the Omar Circle housing development that attracted many African American residents in the late 1950s.
John E. Fleming
John Fleming was born in Morganton, North Carolina and attended Olive Hill High School. He was a leader in the school and community. He served as the President of Olive Hill and the North Carolina Student Associations. In 1960 following the student sit-ins in Greensboro by A and T College students, he helped organized a sit-in at the local Woolworth. As a result, the city of Morganton agreed to desegregate all places of public accommodation. He graduated in 1962.
John attended Berea College, Berea, Kentucky where is majored in history. While a student, he helped organize a group of students and faculty to participate in the March from Selma to Montgomery. Upon graduating early, he attended the University of Kentucky while working for the Kentucky Human Rights Commission. He joined the Peace Corps in 1967 and served in Malawi as a visual aids supervisor for the Ministry of Agriculture.
In 1969, John traveled to over 14 countries in Africa and Europe before returning to the States where is then married his college sweetheart, Barbara Durr. They moved to Washington, DC where he worked for the SNCC founder, Marion Barry who would later become Mayor of Washington. Following employment at Youth Price Inc., he worked as a program officer for the United States Civil Rights Commission chaired by Father Theodore Hesburgh.
He completed his graduate doctoral studies at Howard University working under the direction of Dr. Rayford Logan in 1974. He then served as a senior fellow for Ford Foundation sponsored Institute for the Study of Educational Policy. While there, he published many articles and two books, THE LENGTHENING SHADOW OF SLAVERY and a major a study of Affirmative Action in higher education.
In 1980, he was invited by the Ohio Historical Society to develop a join State/Federal project, the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center at Wilberforce, Ohio. The museum opened in 1988 with Governor Richard Celeste and President of Senegal Abdou Diouf helping dedicate the building. During his tenure at Wilberforce, John served as President of the Ohio Museums Association and on the Board of the American Association of Museums. A lifelong member of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, he served on the ASALH board, was elected Vice President and later President. During this time he did post graduate work at the University of California in Berkeley.
Upon leaving Wilberforce, he was the founding director of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati and later served as director of the Cincinnati Museum Center where he administered the Cincinnati Children’s Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Cincinnati History Museum. He served a director of the “Civil Unrest” exhibition that documented the riots in the city in 2001. Later he became the executive producer of the 12,000 square foot, “America I AM” exhibition with Tavis Smiley that traveled to ten venues around the country.
He planned the International African American Museum in Charleston, South Carolina from 2009 to 2011. John then became senior historian for the development of the Mississippi Civil Right Museum that opened in Jackson in December 2017. John is currently the director of the National Museum of African American Music that is scheduled to open in Nashville, Tennessee in 2019.
Over his career, he has published three books and over 48 articles and chapters in books. He was appointed by the President Bush to serve as a member of the Presidential Commission that recommended to the President and Congress the establishment of the National Museum of African American History and Culture which opened in Washington in 2016. He was awarded lifetime achievement and distinguished service awards by the Ohioana Library, Ohio Museums Association, Berea College, the National Peace Corps, the Association of African American Museums and the American Association for State and Local History. In 2016 he was elected Vice president of the largest professional organization dedicated to preserving local and state history. In 2018 he will become the first African American to serve as President of AASLH.
He currently serves as a Berea College Trustee.
John and Barbara moved to Yellow Springs in 1988. Barbara served as an administrative at Central State University and has published three mystery novels. Their two daughters graduated from Yellow Springs High School. Tuliza Fleming has her doctorate and serves as Curator of Visual Arts for the National Museum of African American History and Culture and Diara Spelmon is a lawyer and lives with her family in Atlanta.
Locally, John is a member of the 365 Group, the Wheeling Gaunt Sculpture Committee and an early founder of the James A. McKee group. He volunteers at St. Vincent de Forest where he also serves on the board. He is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and Sigma Boule` of Sigma Phi Pi.
(Source: John E. Fleming, Yellow Springs, Ohio)
Paul Lawrence Ford (1926 - ?)
Paul Lawrence Ford was the 7th child of nine children. Paul was born July 15, 1926 on a farm on Stringtown Road, off of US 35 outside of Xenia.
Paul attended a one room school through the eighth grade. His teacher wanted him to go to Xenia Central High School, which was an all white school. The blacks students in Xenia attended East High School which was an all black school. Paul’s first day at school at Xenia Central High School, the principal called him in to his office. The principal said to Paul “I hope you realize you will not have any social life here.” Paul replied, “I didn’t come to socialize, I came for an education.” The principal then said “go on back to class.” There were 101 students in Paul’s class. Paul was the first and only black in the school until his brother Jim enrolled the following year. Paul played football all four years in high school.
After graduating from high school, he worked on the farm, at the time they were drafting young men to go into the service. The following year Paul enrolled at Central State. He got his degree at Central State four years later. Paul played football for four years while in college. His degree was in Health and Physical Education.
One week after Paul graduated from Central State, he married Betty Cordell who lived in Yellow Springs. Paul and Betty dated for 5 years waiting for Paul to graduate.
Paul worked on the farm and he was hired at the Xenia Post Office as a Special Delivery carrier. Shortly after working at the post office, Paul decided to go to Wright-Patterson to get a better job. The only position that was opened at that time was working in a blue print department as a GS-1 that is the lowest salary in the GS category. Paul took the job because he needed a job, also taking the attitude “if I get my foot in the door I can advance.” Paul also considered the fact he knew he would soon be a father.
Paul decided to go to night school at University of Dayton and get a business degree. After finishing at UD, he took a test at the base and passed to become a buyer trainee. Paul retired as a GS 14 Division Chief.
Paul and I both joined Central Chapel AME Church and in 1953 we built our home on Herman Street here in Yellow Springs. At that time we had two children but we went to church on a regular basis. Mr. William Perry, a member of our church, who was serving on the School Board (the only minority) told Paul he was going to retire and asked if he would consider running for school board. Paul decided he would run for the position. Our son Paul was in the first grade when Paul was elected. Paul continued to run and was re-elected for 12 years. Paul also served on the Zoning Board for the Village of Yellow Springs.
Paul was an active person and when he was at Xenia Central High School his architectural teacher taught Paul and his younger Jim how to shear sheep. They were both very good at shearing. Our children’s teachers would have Paul come to their class to show the children how sheep were sheared and where we get our wool. Paul, also sheared sheep in the evenings and on Saturdays to make a little extra money. By that time we had two more children.
Paul loved sports, we bowled together in leagues in Yellow Springs and Springfield. We always attended our children’s school functions and any outside sports or activities they were involved in. Paul and I did most things together and when it was a family affair we would all go together.
Paul was very active in the church. He was on the Steward Board for many years and was the treasurer of Central Chapel AME Church for 35 years until the time of his death. Paul, growing up on a farm, also loved to garden, we didn’t have the space in our yard but we were able to use the space at Com and Goldie’s Williams yard.
Goldie was my first cousin and they were delighted to have us garden on their property. We shared with them the vegetable that he raised. Paul had a large garden and he was proud to share his crop with neighbors and friends.
Paul’s high school class would have a class reunion every five years and Paul and I both would attend. One year Paul was selected to be the MC for the evening, he did an outstanding job.
Paul was very active in the Yellow Springs community, especially after living here for 57 years. He served on the Yellow Springs Senior Center Board for a number of years and on many committees.
Paul L. Ford, this was the way he always signed his name. Paul was an outstanding husband and father.
Source: Betty Ford
Greene, Therese Evelyn Marie Thomas
Smith, Daniel D.
Walker, Robert Anthony