General Lloyd W. ‘Fig’ Newton is a retired U.S. Air Force four-star general who made history within the military branch. In 1974, General Newton became the first African-American member of the Air Force’s air demonstration squad, The Thunderbirds.
Newton was born December 24, 1942 in Ridgeland, S.C. Newton’s parents enforced education in their home despite never graduating from school themselves. Using his parents as an example of hard work, Newton put himself through college at Tennessee State University. He joined the Air Force’s ROTC program and discovered an interest in flying along the way.
The future combat pilot then completed his F-4 fighter training and flew 269 combat missions during the Vietnam War. But as adept as he was a combat fighter, Newton harbored a desire to join the Thunderbirds ever since seeing them in 1964 as a sophomore in college.
Newton failed three times to pass the qualification bar to join the Thunderbirds but was finally able to be a member of the elite flying squadron in November 1974. Newton was a command pilot and logged over 4,000 flying hours in a variety of aircraft.
Newton said in an interview that he struggled with fighting in Vietnam and returning to face the harsh realities of racism and bigotry at home. He used his time in the military to address racial disparities. Newton has also used his experiences to lead talks with schoolchildren.
General Newton retired from the Air Force in 2000.
PHOTO: U.S. Air Force