Six years ago, historians, Wesley Phillips Newton and Jerome A. Ennels, proposed a series of articles on the history of Maxwell Air Force Base to the Advertiser. The series that began in 1992, ended on October 8 1997 at a book signing and reception for the authors of “The Wisdom of Eagles: A History of Maxwell Air Force Base” at the Court Street offices of Black Belt Press.
Both authors possess expertise in air power history. Ennels served as Director of History for Air University from 1977 to 1981, and as director of Maxwell AFB’s Office of History since then. Newton served as a contract historian at the Air Force Historical Division from 1957 to 1961. He is Professor Emeritus of History at Auburn University, where he taught from 1964 to his retirement in 1987.
Before proceeding with this review, I need to post a disclaimer: Wes Newton and Jerome Ennels are friends of mine. Having said that, I want to say that The Wisdom of Eagles is everything I expected it to be, plus some significant things I didn’t expect.
I expected to read about brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright, and their flying machine. What I didn’t expect was to read that some of the first people in Montgomery to see an airplane in flight may have been the black residents of Douglassville. Former slaves established the community of Douglassville after the Civil War, then, as free black men and women, continued to work the land as sharecroppers. The same flat land West of Montgomery at a bend in the Alabama River, became the home of the Wright Flying School at the turn of the century, and of Maxwell AFB today.
I expected that authors, Ennels and Newton, would write about Montgomery’s famous couple, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. As authors, how could they miss the opportunity to write a few words about arguably the most famous author ever? They took advantage of the opportunity and wrote a few words about the man who penned The Great Gatsby by describing some of the escapades of his bride, Montgomery’s native daughter and original jazz age flapper, Zelda Sayre. They wrote about young pilots who “were reputed to have buzzed her home on the outskirts of downtown [Montgomery].”
I didn’t expect to read that [in 1942], “When a War Department-sponsored white lecturer visited Maxwell…Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald again defied local mores as one of two white Montgomery women who escorted him to Tuskegee.”
I expected and found it very interesting to read about the famous bands and entertainers, like Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Lena Horne who visited the area. Most performed in Tuskegee, entertaining black cadets learning to fly the Army Air Corps’ combat aircraft during World War II.
I didn’t expect the many wonderful pictures that authors Ennels and Newton included in the book, like the one of World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, Joe Lewis, when he fought at Maxwell as Sergeant Lewis. They have also included a rich pictorial album of local personalities.
Most of all I really didn’t expect that I would believe The Wisdom of Eagles, at 200-plus pages, was too short. But, I do.
With this book, Jerome Ennels and Wes Newton have “raised the bar” for professional historians. The Wisdom of Eagles is the first comprehensive history of a U.S. Military installation by professional historians that explores the social, economic, operational, and educational aspects of events. The authors masterfully wrote of a military base in Montgomery, Alabama, at a time when race relations in the South shamed America, without dishonoring anyone.
Ennels and Newton bring the military history of Montgomery to life and they do it without using racial stereotypes or omitting worthwhile history to protect traditional stereotypes. Because they wrote in a style that should become a standard — history that includes all of us — I am nominating Jerome Ennels and Wesley Newton as candidates for the Montgomery Advertiser’s Black History “Difference Makers.”
Originally Published: Montgomery Advertiser, 4 February 1998