In the Community
Educator and Lifelong Giver, Margaret Rose Murray ( Far right ) Margaret Rose Murray and two elementary students, King and Queen recipients, Antoinette Dyer and Ahmed Exum, prepare for St. Augustine’s College’s Christmas Parade of 2004. ( Right ) Mrs. Murray and Obelia Exum take a selfie together.
( Below) Three French military medals awarded to Kiffin Rockwell ( left to right ): Medal of the Great War; Croix de Guerre; Médaille de la Victoire, 1914–1918.
Rockwell spent six weeks recovering in a hospital at Rennes, France. There, he heard vivid descriptions of air combat, which appealed to his sense of adven- ture. He then requested transfer from the trenches to France’s air service, the Aéronautique Militaire. Largely due to connections he had made while recovering in Paris, his transfer request was granted, and in April of 1916, he became one of the founding pilots in the volunteer air squadron initially known as the Escadrille Americaine. The nascent squadron came to be known as the Lafayette Escadrille, in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette, hero of the American and French Revolutions. The unit’s aircraft, mechanics, and uniforms were French, as was the commander, Captain Georges Thenault. The roster contained five French pilots and 38 American pilots (including fellow North Carolinian James McConnell), serving at various times. The first major action seen by the Lafayette Escadrille occurred in May, at the Battle of Verdun, when Rockwell, in a Nieuport 11, attacked a German aircraft over the Alsace battlefield. That air fight ended with Rockwell becoming the first American pilot to shoot down an enemy plane. For this action, he was awarded the French Médaille Militaire and the Croix de Guerre. The life of a fighter pilot may have been heroic, but it was often, tragi- cally, short. While flying a Nieuport 17 on September 23, Rockwell was shot through the chest by an explosive bul- let during an aerial duel with a German two-man reconnaissance plane. He was killed instantly, the second American airman to die in combat, just three days after his 24th birthday. He was buried with military honors in Luxeuil- les-Bains, France; his remains were later moved to the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial at Marnes-la-Coquette, France, where his ashes now rest, along with those of other early American combat aviators.
Kiffin Rockwell: A North Carolinian Flies for France
by Obelia J. Exum, Graphic Design Supervisor
by Jeanne Marie Warzeski, PhD, Curator of Militaria and Ethnography
“There is an art to living, and the foremost part is giving.” Mrs. Margaret Rose Murray’s lifelong motto sums up her life as an educa- tor and longtime friend to the southeast Raleigh community. For five decades Murray has helped to educate and prepare young students for higher education. In her classroom she taught learning and strength- ened self-awareness in African American students. The mild-mannered octogenarian,
Prior to official United States involve- ment in World War I in April 1917, some North Carolinians traveled over- seas to lend support to the Allied cause even as their country remained neu- tral. They offered their services to the French Foreign Legion, the American Ambulance Field Service, the Lafayette Escadrille (an aeronautical unit), and the Red Cross. Some served in several capacities by initially volunteering in one organization and then transferring to another. One such individual was Kiffin Yates Rockwell (1892–1916), who made the ultimate sacrifice. Kiffin Rockwell was born in Newport, Tennessee, on September 20, 1892, but grew up in Asheville, North Carolina. As a child, he was inspired by tales his uncles told of daring and combat. In 1914, as the threat of war loomed in Europe, he saw a chance to partake in his own undertaking: in August he and his older brother Paul traveled overseas to enlist in the French Foreign Legion, a branch of the French army that was created for foreign nationals. Like many volunteers, the Rockwells viewed the war as more than a great adventure and more than just an effort to save France. They felt an obligation to save human- ity from evil, which Germany seemed to embody. Following basic training, the brothers were sent to the front, but Paul was wounded in December and removed from active service. Kiffin remained in the trenches through the winter. In May of 1915, he was shot through the thigh in an assault on German lines near Arras, France. After sustaining an additional wound at the front in December 1915,
National figure Rosa Parks ( center ) visits The Vital Link Preschool in ca. 1983. Courtesy of Cash Michaels.
community, and family. Murray loves for students to learn. Looking forward, Murray envisions a brand-new Vital Link. During one school year, a preschool student was creating a Vital Link University with building blocks—sparking the idea of a future version of Vital Link. Murray’s daughter, Rhonda Muhammad, adds that a new Vital Link “will have merit, value, and virtue in preparing students to be 21st- century learners and helping others and passing on to families and generations to come. The new school model is beyond me and mom; we are building a platform as an educational investment and model for future-generation Vital Linkers to learn.” Murray serves as the principal emeritus at Vital Link Preschool, which has approxi- mately 40 students enrolled. She and her daughter, Rhonda, are longtime presenters at the annual African American Cultural Celebration that the museum sponsors. Murray offers this piece of advice for living:“You have to give of yourself, and do it unselfishly.”
child graduates at grade level and above. For some students this has meant being accelerated in reading and math in kin- dergarten and elementary school. The Vital Link teaches as part of its curriculumAfrican American history, and students are not only being edu- cated, but so are parents.“We worked on a space project; a student learned of Mae Jemison, and that student took her project home and told her parents she wanted to be an astronaut. The parents did not know who Mae Jemison was, and the student shared the story. The parents became enthused and excited that their child would have so much knowledge and detailed understanding about space and an African American astronaut.” Who helped in the community during this lifelong journey? Murray’s husband, Kenneth; local community workers, gov- ernment leaders, and city officials; the na- tional community; and the international community contributed toward her efforts. But her husband was the most important. He was a builder, so when Murray spoke of the vision, it would become reality through his gifted hands. Today The Vital Link Preschool, serv- ing preschoolers from 18 months to five years old, still connects students,
A recent logo for the private school. Courtesy of Rhonda Muhammad.
Margaret Rose Murray, principal emeritus, for The Vital Link Preschool.
exemplifying wisdom, beauty, and grace, shared during our April 16, 2018, interview some highlights of her journey to becoming a “giver” in the community. “For as long as I can remember, I wanted to become a schoolteacher.” In 1964Murray and her husband, Kenneth Murray- Muhammad, started the private school The Vital Link.“We wanted to educate and be that link to home and to the community, a link to connect to all in a positive way.” The school began as Cross Link Learn- ing Center located on Cross Link Road in Raleigh. The name changed slightly to The Vital Link Is Cross Link when they moved to a larger space in Raleigh’s historic Method community in 1966. The location has been its home for 53 years. Students arrive with various academic and socioeconomic backgrounds. The Vital Link has worked diligently to see that every
View Rockwell’s story and arti- facts in the award-winning exhibit North Carolina and World War I , which remains available through January 6, 2019.
Kiffin Rockwell as a member of the Lafayette Escadrille in May 1916.
( Above ) Mrs. Murray and daughter, Rhonda Muhammad, April 2018.
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