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William Morgan, 1944
*William Morgan was born on this date in 1921. He was a Black dentist and Tuskegee Airman.
William Bethel Morgan Jr. was from Wyano, Pennsylvania (Westmoreland County), a small coal mining community. His father was William Bethel Morgan, Sr., a coal miner, and his mother was Susie Harris Morgan a farmer. When he was 8, in 1929, his father died in a Wyano coal mining accident. Young Morgan and his mother moved onto a farm in Yukon, Pennsylvania as the only Black family in town.
He worked the farm, attended Homestead High School, played football, and played the guitar. The community eventually supported him and his mother. Yukon was where he spent most of his young adult life as a farmer, traveling to his job as a chipper in the Pittsburgh Steel Foundry. His mother wanted him to be a Raleigh salesman or a schoolteacher. He tried the Raleigh job. However, door-to-door sales were too frustrating for him. In 1942 while Morgan was working in a steel mill, he read an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper about the Tuskegee Institute, where young Black men trained to be fighter pilots.
He volunteered for the service in 1943 and, after a long battery of tests, got “in line” as a pre-aviation cadet in 1944. He waited a year for a class to be formed. Even though his grades in high school were very good, the tests were very hard. Only 35 out of 537 made it into flight training, and Morgan was one of them. The service was the first experience he got to be around other Black people. He said the experience was incredible. He would say, “I learned a lot about life after meeting the cream of the crop of the black race. I saw what we could make of ourselves.”
He began training in Mississippi, earning his wings in PT-19s and PT-13s. He later learned combat techniques from AT-6 trainers and later moved to gunnery training off the Florida coast in AT-6s and the P-51s. As a flight cadet, he was prepared to fight the enemy overseas and the enemy at home. Morgan was a member of the last class to graduate from the Tuskegee Institute on September 8, 1945 and was one of the last to be assigned as a replacement to the 332nd fighter group, the Red Tails, Class SE 45-F. He graduated as a Flight Officer. He never got to see combat. The war was over before he could be assigned to his unit.
After he left the service, he spent time in Atlanta and New York. Morgan enrolled in dental school at the University of Pittsburgh, as one of only 4 Black students, earning his DDS degree in 1957. Soon after, Dr. Morgan purchased a dental practice from a white dentist in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, PA. As his practice grew, he opened a satellite office in Braddock, Pennsylvania. He practiced dentistry for a little over ten years in the Pittsburgh area. Not liking the city's politics and racial tension in the late ’60s, Dr. Morgan moved his family (Martha, his wife, and two children, Bill and Susan) to Wanamingo, MN, a Scandinavian community of 500 people.
Around 1980, after 12 years in a successful practice, Dr. Morgan accepted a dental position at the Regional Treatment Center in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. After retirement, Morgan pursued his hobbies of hunting, fishing, and as a Ham Radio operator, and volunteered at the local humane society. From Pennsylvania, through the deep South to rural Minnesota, Morgan and his family maintained dignity and strength in the face of racial indifference.
Dr. William Bethel Morgan died on December 30, 2006, in Minneapolis.
Susan E. Morgan, daughter of Dr. Wm B. Morgan