History Museum Honors OK's 1st Black Air Force general

Thursday, February 20th 2014, 8:13 pm
By: News 9

With a military career lasting more than three decades, Brigadier General Tom Daniels made huge strides becoming the first and only African-American Air Force general in Oklahoma. This month, the Oklahoma History Center compiled an exhibit in Daniels' honor.

Not only did Daniels break color barriers in the military, he also was the first black news anchor in Oklahoma City, and he got his start at News 9 in 1974 as a reporter.

"It hadn't been done in this market, so there I was big hair and all," Daniels said. "I go all the way back to Jerry Adams, Gary England, Pam Olsen, Vicki Monks, Dennis Smith, Tom Mahoney, Mike Jernigan, Mike Boettcher and Tony Clark, those were my classmates."

The Guthrie native got his start in radio at age 16, and interviewed artists like James Brown, who called him "Soul Brother number young" because of Daniels' young age.

"I started at a little 110-watt station in Guthrie, KWRW 1490, hard call letters," Daniels said. "They let the blacks have one hour at night, and I was that guy, and I did that all the way through high school, then I enlisted in Air Force."

Daniel's military career started in 1965. He served in Texas, North Dakota, and Southeast Asia and flew 25 missions, and later three missions in Bosnia. It was while serving in the Oklahoma Air National Guard in the 70's that Daniels worked at News 9 until 1978.

Daniels says he stumbled into news at the behest of his squadron commander Lt. Col. Gene Allen, who worked at Channel 4 at the time.

"They put me in a booth. I did a rip-and-read and the next day I was out in the field," he said. "Not knowing television, they gave me a good photographer and a good producer and that day we did five stories. When I got home that night, my head totally exploded, and that was the beginning."

Daniels says the news director Ed Turner, who later went on to CNN, selected him to anchor the weekends. Daniels also hosted a Saturday public affairs show called "The Subject Is" where he interviewed Urban League presidents and the first black Senator E. Melvin Porter.

He covered long profile pieces on the Oklahoma City Police Department and teens in juvenile court.

Daniels says he got a job in Houston at KTRK-TV that he accepted and signed a contract for, but he says a call from the Pentagon for special project changed it all. So he went from the news to holding several military positions in Washington D.C., doing six tours at the Pentagon, before rising to the ranks of Oklahoma's first and only Air Force general.

"It was a great ride. It was a lot of work. [I] met a lot of people, made a lot of friends," Daniels said. "I served in every level of the Air Force I've run squadrons. I've run operations. I've done it all and had a great time doing it."

Some of Daniel's awards and accomplishments can be seen on display at the Oklahoma History Center, including studded uniforms and flight suits.

"It was a bumpy road. It wasn't easy and I have the scars to prove it, but I still did it. It was sometimes tough being the only one. I didn't have anyone like me to look up to and had to pave my own way," Daniels said. "So everything I did as a first, I got it out of Oklahoma."

Now, retired and living in Ft. Worth with his family, Daniels was appointed by the White House a few years ago to serve on a committee for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, where he specializes in helping veterans with PTSD.

His hometown, Guthrie, has also renamed its airport corridor after him and held an annual community Thanksgiving dinner in his honor.