Ortega, Sandra

Sandra Ortega was born March 29, 1937 in Baltimore, Maryland.  She grew up against the backdrop of 1950s America, when the Jim Crow Laws governed life all across the south, a truth that was in evidence in her own city of Baltimore, where segregation ran deep.  From an early age Sandra learned the virtue of education; she was privileged to attend the Coppin Demonstration School, where she learned from the best young African-American teachers of the day.  She fell ill with bouts of epilepsy though, and was fortunate after a time to find a place in St. Frances Academy, which put her on a pathway to Morgan State.  All the civil rights movement was happening all around Sandra, and she was at the forefront, taking part in marches and sit-ins.  Her involvement there and in Morgan State’s ROTC program brought her to the attention of people in high places, notably President Dwight Eisenhower.   He had made up his mind to more fully integrate the American armed forces, and he had a spot in mind for Sandra in the United States Air Force.  Two air force officers showed up at her house, but Sandra’s father would not let her go – at first.  He relented though, and Sandra headed off to officer training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, which she recalled as a different world.  Jim Crow was very much in effect, and seeing those signs was a new experience for her.  On base she trained with a small group of women, and there too she was left out and often invisible, missing out on the social life that life on the base afforded the other women.  Officers could be callous too, as Sandra had to deal with unfair evaluations and an array of other aggressions.  She did meet her future husband during this time; he too was in the air force dealing with his own barriers and obstacles.  As Sandra says “The Air Force gave me my family”; it also gave her a career as Sandra remained in the military for 27 years, breaking down barriers and earning respect for her dignity and humanity, something she continues to do as an inspirational speaker.  Mr. Masters’ Grade 12 History class was fortunate to zoom with Sandra Ortega in May 2022.