Home News Local news Black History Spotlight: Herbert Hosea Heywood

Black History Spotlight: Herbert Hosea Heywood


Feb. 6, 2006 – Herbert Hosea Heywood was born in Christiansted, St. Croix on Nov. 10, 1923. At the time of his birth, the Virgin Islands had been a U.S. possession for just six years. Many residents were mourning the loss of Denmark's ties to the islands, while others were wholeheartedly embracing their new status as Americans. It was in this passionate political climate that Heywood was raised.
Fewer than 20 years later, on March 22, 1943, Heywood left his native island to enlist as a U.S. soldier defending his country in World War II. Heywood was not destined for the Army as many other men of color were choosing; he was looking to the skies yearning to man the cockpits in fighter planes like his white counterparts were able to do.
Fueling his desire was an executive order recently passed by President Harry S. Truman banning racial discrimination in defense industries and the government. As a result of Roosevelt's actions, African Americans for the first time began receiving flight instructions at Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Ala., a campus established by Booker T. Washington.
Heywood became one of the 996 men of color who were trained as pilots, bombardiers and navigators. They were known as the Tuskegee Airmen, the first black pilots in the U.S. armed forces.
There were only two men from the Virgin Islands who were destined to be recorded in history as members of the acclaimed Tuskegee Airmen. Henry E. Rohlsen, also of St. Croix, joined the squad, and both he and Heywood graduated from the Tuskegee Flight School class of 44-C-SE on March 12, 1944, as 2nd Lieutenants.
A list of all flight school pilot graduates can be found in the appendix of the book "Black Knights – The Story of the Tuskegee Airmen" by Lynn M. Holman and Thomas Reilly. The list includes the graduates' class number, graduation date, rank held at Tuskegee, serial number and hometown.
History will never forget the two Virgin Islanders who served as the first black fighter pilots, and the V.I. government is doing its part to preserve that part of our history.
In 2001, the 24th Legislature of the Virgin Islands enacted legislation known as the V.I. Military Museum and Veterans Memorial Act. The act authorized the establishment of a memorial in the Virgin Islands to the more than 3,000 registered V.I. War Veterans who reside in the territory.
The memorial will include exhibits, artifacts and memorabilia of conflicts that involved veterans of V.I. descent, including members of the 332nd Fighter Group, more commonly known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
After serving his country, Heywood graduated from Columbia School of Law. He returned to his native St. Croix and worked at Christiansted High School for many years.
Heywood was elected to the last two St. Croix Municipal Councils – the 8th and 9th council from 1951-54. He brought his love of flying to his political campaigns by flying over communities and dropping political leaflets.
Heywood was married to Catalina Cena Cepeda on May 23, 1948, at Holy Cross Catholic Church. Before his death in 1982, he worked as supervisor of accounting at Harlem Hospital in New York City.
The information referenced here is a result of Web-based research, books or newspaper articles. In some cases family members have provided details of the subject's life. For more information or to send your comments on the article contact the Source at [email protected].
In observance of February as Black History Month, the Source will be highlighting a number of contemporary and historic individuals born in the Virgin Islands who have made major contributions in areas including civil rights, science, literature, sports and entertainment.


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