Lt. Col. John Mosley is being honored by Colorado State University as the eighth recipient of the Founders Day Medallion because he didn’t do a very good job of listening to those who told him “no.”
He didn’t listen to his friends when they told him he was crazy to play college football in an era when African Americans were all but banned from the sport. And he managed to convince military leaders during World War II that he was much more valuable as a pilot when they wanted him to serve on the ground.
His determined approach to life made him a pioneer both on and off the field – a man who served his college, his state and his country with passion and commitment.
“John Mosley is one of the great figures in Colorado State history – a Tuskegee Airmen, the first Black football player on record at our University, and a remarkable, inspirational human being,” CSU President Tony Frank said. “His legacy of courage, dignity, leadership and perseverance continues to be an inspiration to generations of CSU students and alumni, and we are deeply honored to recognize him with this Founders Day medal.”
To see a slide show from the Founders Day event, click here.
A talented, determined pioneer
When he arrived at CSU (then Colorado A&M) from Denver in 1939, he wanted to join the Aggies’ football and wrestling teams. His best friend tried to discourage him. After all, A&M had never had a Black football player or wrestler in the record-keeping era, and there was no indication that Mosley – despite a very successful athletic career at Denver’s Manual High School – would be given a chance.
But legendary coach Harry Hughes, then in his 30th season at CSU, welcomed him. And while many of his teammates shunned him at first, by the time he was a senior in 1942 he had won most of them over with his strong play and leadership.
Mind you, this was eight years prior to Jackie Robinson’s historic major league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, and there were only seven other African American students at CSU – none of them athletes. Mosley is often referred to as the “Jackie Robinson of Colorado State University athletics,” and he also broke the color barrier in the old Mountain States Conference, which included the University of Colorado at the time.
Mosley not only was an athletic standout, he was a respected scholar and student leader. A National Merit Scholar in high school, he was voted student body vice-president his junior and senior years at CSU, and graduated in 1943 with a degree in physical education.
Mosley could have faded into CSU history at that point, but with World War II raging across the globe he felt the need to serve his country. He applied to become the first African American in Advanced ROTC at CSU but was rejected due to a heart murmur that had not previously been detected in various sports physical exams over the years.
Finding his wings in Fort Collins
But once again, he declined to heed the “no.” He applied to join a class in civilian pilot training and, after paying for and passing an independent physical exam, he was accepted into the program. He learned to fly in Fort Collins, and applied for acceptance into the legendary 332nd Fighter Group – also known as the Tuskegee Airmen, the all-Black squadron based in Alabama.
Again he was rejected, assigned instead to a field artillery unit. Not surprisingly, he once again found a way to turn “no” into “yes.”
Mosley wrote letters to congressmen and the White House, imploring them to let him take advantage of his flying skills and train at Tuskegee. Two months later, he got his wish.
Mosley never flew in World War II. Trained to fly B-25 bombers, the war ended in late 1945 before he was deployed. He flew numerous missions in the Korean War, and also served in Vietnam, before retiring from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel.
Decades of service
He served as special assistant to the undersecretary in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in Washington D.C. before returning to Colorado, where he made a home with his wife and family in Aurora. He worked at the regional office for the Department of Health and Human Services until he retired.
Mosley was elected to the CSU Sports Hall of Fame in 1998 and the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 2009. He received a Doctor of Humane Letters from CSU in 2004, and the John W. Mosley Student-Athlete Mentoring Program was established in his honor in 2011.
In Aurora, the Edna and John W. Mosley P-8 school stands as a testament to the couples’ long history of service to their community and country. Edna Mosley, who died in 2014, was the first African American to serve on Aurora’s city council. She, too, received a Doctor of Humane Letters from CSU in 2004.
John Mosley died May 22, 2015, at age 93.
“The father of black history, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, first considered the need to organize a movement that would spawn Negro History Week, eventually becoming Black History Month, to honor the contributions of the many blacks in society that the history books seldom spoke of,” said Albert Bimper, a former CSU football standout who now serves as an assistant professor of ethnic studies at Colorado State and as the senior associate athletic director for diversity and inclusion. “(Woodson) argued that the rich history of America was not the result of a few notable men and women, but the product of many determined to overcome our imperfect society. The legacy of Lt. Col. John Mosley reminds us of this rich tradition of those with a determination to rise and a life lived that elevates us all.”
The campus and community are invited to attend the Founders Day Medallion ceremony, set for 4 p.m. Monday, Feb. 6, at the Lory Student Center Theater. Mosley’s family will be on hand to accept the award.
Read about other Founders Day Medal recipients