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March 3, 2017

 

Brig. Gen. Norris W. Overton, a proud 1946 Crispus Attucks High
School alum, talks with IPS about his early life in Indianapolis, and about his
fondest memories as an Attucks Tiger, which molded him into the ambitious and patriotic
leader he is today.Norris W. Overton

 

“I remember my teachers being very active in my neighborhood. There was
a large participation in the local PTA activities,” said Overton, who attended
Attucks when it was an all-black segregated high school. “I also remember how the
importance of providing a cultural dimension was recognized at Attucks as
students were taken annually on a field trip to the Murat Theatre to experience
a classical music concert by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra … these things
made a difference and impacted my life forever.”

 

Additionally, the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corp (JROTC) program and
community leaders such as Sgt. Albert C. Magenheimer, Gen. Benjamin O.
Davis Sr., Capt. Rayfiled Anderson and Ms. Vivian C. Terry all carried major
influences that prepared Overton for a lifetime of achievement.

 

From 1951 to 1981, Overton managed to take on 18 leadership roles in the
Air Force, ranging from Finance Officer, Deputy Finance Officer, Chief
Comptroller, and Deputy Director of Accounting, and many others. However,
becoming brigadier general in the Air Force is his most profound accomplishment.

 

Early life in Indianapolis …

I grew up in a low-income neighborhood on the
eastside of Indianapolis. My parents provided my two sisters and me with a
loving home environment. 

My elementary education began at Indianapolis Public
School 56 for grades first through six. For Grades 7 and 8, I was provided
public transportation coupons to travel to IPS School 37, about a mile-and-a-half from my home. As I entered ninth grade, I walked about a mile to IPS
School 26. Finally, after a sleepless night in the fall of 1940, I prepared to
meet with several of my friends to make our first 20-mile roundtrip through
transportation vouchers to reach the crown jewel of the segregated public
school system in Indianapolis at Crispus Attucks. It was the happiest day of my
life to finally be going to Crispus Attucks High School. I can’t describe the
excitement in walking into the entrance of the building with the highly polished
halls to be met by Principal Dr. Russel A. Lane. It was the beginning of a new
world for me. My life was changed forever.

 

Your experience at Crispus Attucks

At Attucks, the students were provided with a world-class education. Our teachers for the most part had graduate degrees. Several
teachers held doctorate degrees. They were not able to find teaching jobs in a
segregated city like Indianapolis. The only option was to seek teaching
positions in the segregated schools of Indianapolis, where African-American
students were educated.

 

One thing that was very important at Attucks, and is
remembered by all students is the act of Principal Lane standing at the front
entrance of the school building as students arrived. Dr. Lane would hold up two
fingers and that meant you had two minutes to cross the street and get into
your classroom.  Every student at Attucks
will remember that his actions taught us to be on time and if you were “just”
late, you were late. 

 

In addition to Principal Lane, many of our teachers
took the time to care for the students beyond the lesson plans of the day. They
taught us both academic and life skills. I remember one of my teachers, Dr.
Joseph C. Carroll, who gave my class a written assignment. I decided to make an
attractive cover for my report and sought the help of one of my artistic friends
and classmates, Dolly Gardner. She created an eye-catching cover, which
included the image of the globe with an American flagpole positioned where
Indianapolis would be, and used water color — resulting in a stunning cover for my
report. 

 

A few days later, Dr. Carroll came to class and
said, “I only gave out one A grade and that goes to Mr. Overton. I was elated.
When class ended, Dr. Carroll asked me to stay behind. For a moment.  I fully expected more accolades. What I got
was the opposite. He ripped into my report, which he said was worth no more
than a C for effort. He explained that the A grade was for “creative packaging,”
not content. He then proceeded to lecture me on the value of content as opposed
to fancy “packaging” as one faces the challenges of life. Although in a state
of shock, his message registered. His message influenced me for the rest of my
life. I always remembered his critique of my paper: Put forth the time and
energy to produce a “quality” product; packaging will take care of itself. 

 

My IPS education prepared me for …

The
Attucks foundation has allowed me to face the many challenges and achieve my ever-changing
personal goals. My educational foundation supported several levels of learning
that followed. The high school experience has awarded me in many places and
many times. The Attucks faculty gave me the ambition and drive to become
successful and polished.

 

Higher Education …

After receiving my high school diploma, I went to
Indiana University Extension (now IUPUI) where I spent my first two years in
college. I managed to earn 50 hours in business and accounting courses. By my
third year in college, I then transferred to Indiana University (IU) in
Bloomington where I declared my major in Accounting. I enrolled in the Advanced
ROTC Program. This program prepared me to become an officer in the U.S. Air
Force upon graduation from IU in June 1951. By the time I graduated, the Korean
War had been going on for a year, so I volunteered to serve in the 5th
Air Force in Korea. 

 

Family…

My
family was always very supportive of me. I grew up with my father, mother and
two sisters. I was the oldest of the three children. My father was a hard
worker – he had three jobs and my mother was a stay-at-home housewife and
served as the disciplinarian. My parents were very proud of my accomplishments.
Only my sisters lived to see me become a general and a corporate
executive. 

 

My
wife, Pat, and I have been married for 50 years. I met my wife while I was
stationed in New Jersey. She was a school teacher in Illinois on vacation in
New Jersey when I saw her and asked her out to dinner. Six months later, I was
transferred to Milwaukee, Wis., only 30 miles from where she lived.

 

Interests/ Hobbies …

Golf
is my obsession. I golfed every day when I was in Hawaii and when I worked at
Amtrak in D.C. every weekend.

 

Listening
to classical music, which I gained a love for while at Attucks High School on
the field trips to the Murat Theatre. I have a substantial library of music
stored electronically in my home music room. I attend popular jazz and gospel
concerts.

 

Vision/Dreams …

I
hope that someday a young boy will come to me and say, “Sir, you spoke to me
once when I was young and now I am a president of a company … you’ve inspired
me to be who I am today.”  I hope to have
the pleasure in knowing that I helped encourage a young person as Gen.
Benjamin O. Davis Sr. (the first African-American general officer in the United
States Army) inspired me to pursue a military career.

 

Final Quote …

“Aim
high to hit high.”