Among many other things, Denver native John Mosley has been a star athlete at Manual High School… a trailblazer as the first African-American football player in the modern era of the Colorado State (previously A&M) football program… and a patriot who served as a Tuskegee Airman during World War II.
Mosley was raised in Denver when standards and covenants blocked African-Americans from living in areas beyond the enclave to the east of downtown.
“The kinds of things that prevailed at that time were quite similar to what were happening down South in terms of drinking fountains and various department stores and that type of things,” Mosley recalled. “Of course, we didn’t eat at the lunch counters downtown.”
A National Merit Scholar at Manual High School, Mosley went to Fort Collins with his buddy, Charles Cousins, and enrolled at what is now Colorado State University (then Agricultural College of Colorado and subsequently Colorado Agricultural and Mechanical College). There were only nine black students at the school. There wasn’t a single black football player in the Mountain States Conference (which also included Colorado) when he joined the Aggies in 1939. He ended up as a star fullback and guard. “I won’t call out any names now, but there were several players on my team that never accepted me,” Mosley said. Opponents also taunted him. “My teammates, Dude Dent and Woody Fries, were quite vocal in ensuring that those voices didn’t get out too much. The way I responded was through my ability to tackle and run the ball hard.”
Mosley, also a standout wrestler, was vice president of his class as a junior and senior.
After the outset of WWII, he became a member of the 99th Fighter Squadron, formed at
Tuskegee in June 1941. The Tuskegee Airmen mostly escorted bombers in single-engine fighters. But in 1945, Mosley was one of the first blacks trained to be a bomber pilot. Mosley and others were ticketed to fly in Pacific combat had the war continued into late 1945. After getting his master’s degree from the University of Denver, Mosley worked as a youth coordinator for the YMCA in Kansas City, Mo., until his reserve unit was called back up during the Korean War. He stayed in the Air Force — by then, integrated — until 1970. Mosley flew fighter missions during the Vietnam War, but mostly was a director of combat operations, planning missions and strategy. After retiring from the service, he went to Washington, D.C. as a special assistant to the undersecretary in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. He then returned to Denver and worked for the regional office of HEW’s successor, the Department of Health and Human Services, until his retirement.
“The Armed Forces would have never been integrated had it not been for the Tuskegee Airmen proving they could fight, wanted to fight, could be relied on to fight and were not afraid of giving their lives to accomplish their missions and goals,” he said. “The one thing that I recognize after having flown all over the world and lived all over the world is that this country is the best country in the world and we have to do everything to preserve it and protect it and sustain it in any fashion that we can.”
I won’t call out any names now, but there were several players on my team that never accepted me… The way I responded was through my ability to tackle and run the ball hard.