My grandfather, Leroy Jesse Brown, was the first Black naval aviator of our nation and was killed in action during the Korean War on December 3rd, 1950. He was only 24 years old at the time, and Pamela, his only child, was a toddler. She is now the mother of Daisy and Jesse.
Despite being on the wrong side of the 38th parallel, his remains still remain. The motion picture “Devotion,” which will depict the months leading up to Jesse’s deployment to Korea and his subsequent death, will be released on November 23rd. The plane he was in was shot down after the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.
Jesse’s trailblazing story, like many other Black heroes, deserved the attention it never received. He fought and died for a country that didn’t love him, and many Black American war heroes faced violence, degradation, and oppression. Despite this, they exhibited resilience and grace.
The opportunity to meet my grandfather through the magic of this film has filled our hearts with excitement. Perhaps it is a chance for us to meet him, as he died when we were young. We have always carried the heavy responsibility of honoring Jesse, our grandfather. He has long belonged to us, known only by a few historians and his family comrades. It is not enough to describe the pride and history he now takes in his rightful place.
My mother was very important to our family as she kept alive the tradition of our story, so we all knew about his legacy and mostly heard about his legends. Today, my brother Jamal and I had a few personal experiences that made us feel connected to him. I know mostly about him from the stories passed down by our late grandmother, who was portrayed by Christina Jackson in the film. My grandfather has been a combination of folklore and family. Jesse Brown, portrayed by Jonathan Majors, is the central and captivating force in the emotional and intense story.
What we know of Jesse – and hope you see in him – is a story of his love, commitment, and brilliance.
“If you weren’t a (N-word), figuring out how to fix that machine could have paid for your college. Junior remembered what the owner said, and in tears, he flawlessly worked it out and successfully paid for the necessary part to fix the machine. Since no other students had been able to engage in the segregated High Eureka schools and various white high schools and colleges, Junior had a unique opportunity.”Output: “If you weren’t a person of color, determining the method to repair that machine could have covered your college expenses. Junior recalled the words of the owner, and with tears in his eyes, he skillfully resolved the issue and effectively funded the purchase of the required component for the machine. Given that no other students, who were racially marginalized, had the chance to participate in the racially segregated educational institutions such as High Eureka, as well as numerous predominantly white high schools and colleges, Junior had an exceptional opportunity.”
Jesse, who was a loving husband, frequently commented on how much he loved the kids as we walked just over ten miles to hear stories from him. Everyone knew who he was and how close he held their love. Growing up, my grandmother Daisy didn’t talk much about their love story.
She talked about their loss and sacrifice, and I could see a glint in her eye as she witnessed their life together. Tom and Jesse celebrated events and occasionally called each other on the phone. In each Christmas card, Jesse served as the wingman who saved Jesse’s life, risking his own heroically. Their close relationships with other men, and Jesse’s relentless commitment to sharing her world with him, helped maintain their strong bond. However, I wish I had been able to know more about the softer parts of their love. She kept her pain from us, sharing only enough to show us the devastating loss that his death was.
This film celebrates what he accomplished, despite the everyday indignities and hatred that Black people were subjected to, placing their safety at risk and deeming them inferior in society. During those moments, he felt helpless or afraid, and you will hear some of the countless slurs he endured because he would write them all down and repeat them back. You won’t see Daisy and Jesse being pelted with tomatoes as they walked in downtown Hattiesburg, but you will hear about Jesse’s trainer and Navy commander in Pensacola, FL who refused to pin his wings on after completing his training. The audience will get a taste of the racism they encountered through the lens of a modern perspective, making it difficult to imagine or depict the obstacles they overcame and how resilient Daisy and Jesse were.
We are proud to carry forward his legacy and share it, but it is like sharing a story when you put a lot of words into it. It has been hard to build up that anxiety over the months. How can I adequately honor the legacy of a legend? I have struggled with the idea of what happens when everyone knows his name. These deeply personal stories about my grandfather’s heroism continue to inspire me and drive me to create and be successful, making him proud.
Our greatest hope is that it inspires and encourages people who want to learn more and find passion and courage for the things they most want in life. In the film, he’s the person you’ll hear as Daisy says, “I know who truly belonged in the sky.”