Omar Blair was born in Texas in 1918, and attended high school in Albuquerque where, as one of six black students, he was not allowed to sit with the other students at graduation. But in 1979 he was named the most distinguished graduate of the same school! Growing up he wanted to become a pilot, however at that time the United States Army Air Corps was not accepting Black candidates for pilot training. In 1940 he enrolled at UCLA, and during his second year there the USAAC relaxed its colored restriction, and after passing the required tests he was sent to Tuskegee, a small college town in Alabama to become one of the first Black pilots. Whereas white cadets progressed through their training at different bases, the black pilots did all their training (Basic, Primary, and Advanced) at Tuskegee at different fields around the town, and they became known as “the Tuskegee Airmen”. In 2012 a movie,“Red Tails”, was made about their exploits, starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrance Howard, and Bryan Cranston.
Blair proceeded with this 332nd Fighter Group to Italy, where they entered combat, originally flying P-40 airplanes, but later the most advanced US fighter, the P-51 Mustang. Their record for escorting bombers to the war zone was exemplary, and though not 100% true, they claimed that no bomber they were escorting was ever shot down. As well Blair became known as “the Great Train Robber”. When their base was running short of fuel he organized a convoy to hijack a train bound for another base and take the fuel tanks it was transporting to his base!
Following the war he spent some time in Albuquerque, but moved to Denver in 1951 where until 1969 he worked at The Rocky Mountain Arsenal, while remaining in the Air Force Reserve from which he retired in 1985 as a Major. In 1970 he moved to Lowry Air Force Base as the Equal Opportunity Officer, and while there in 1973 he ran for and was elected to the Denver Board of Education, where he served until his retirement in 1985. In 1975 he became vice president of the Board, and two years later he became its first Black president, serving until 1981. It was during this period that Denver was required by a US Supreme Court decision of 1973 to integrate its schools and begin busing of students to achieve this, although several of the buses were bombed during this time.
Blair had also served as Commissioner of the Denver Urban Renewal Authority during the time that they initiated the Sixteenth Street Mall. In 1984 he received an Honorary Doctorate from Metro State College as a “Doctor of Public Service” for his many years of service to education. In 2003 the Blair-Caldwell African American Library at 2401 Welton Street was dedicated to him and Elvin Caldwell, the first Black member of the Denver City Council, and a manager of the Denver Department of Safety. In 2004 the Edison Charter School in Green Valley Ranch was renamed the Omar D. Blair Charter School, also honoring Blair’s work in education.
Omar Blair died in 2004, and is buried near the center of Block 121 of Fairmount Cemetery.
By Tom Morton