Omar Blair, the first black president of the Denver Board of Education, died on March 25 of congestive heart failure. He was 85.
When he took office, Blair was charged with desegregating the schools using court-ordered busing. At the time, 37 buses were bombed and pro-busing board members received constant threats. But Blair saw the court order as an opportunity to integrate school resources as well as student populations. From 1972 to 1984, he presided over the board, and earned praise for his calming presence and community service.
Blair was a straight-A student at Albuquerque High School. Although he was one of six black students in the class of ’36, Blair was not allowed to sit with his classmates at the graduation ceremony. Forty-three years later, the school named him one of its most distinguished alumni.
Blair spent two years studying at the University of California at Los Angeles, then joined the Tuskegee Airmen, the pioneering military unit that shattered racial misconceptions about the quality of black pilots. A captain in the 322nd Squadron of the Army Air Corps, Blair spent World War II flying combat planes over Europe.
In 2003, the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library was named after Blair and Elvin Caldwell, Denver’s first black councilman.