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Charles L.T. Dryden

Charles L.T. Dryden

Celebrating Black History Month

Profile of the Week

Charles L.T. Dryden
Charles L.T. Dryden

Our old church records (membership registry, session minutes, or annual reports) do not typically indicate any race of our members, so it is quite difficult to identify African Americans in our church community. Nevertheless, after talking to a few knowledgeable members, we believe that Charles L.T. Dryden was our Church’s first African American elder, at least in modern times.

“A-Train: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman”

Described in his son’s book “A-Train: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman”[1], Charles Levy Tucker Dryden (“Brother Rob” called by his kinfolks) was born and raised in Jamaica. He was well educated and married his wife Violet Adina Buckley Dryden in Jamaica where both of them taught at colleges (Charles at Mico College and Violet at Wolmers College). He fought and was wounded as a sergeant in the Jamaican Expeditionary Force during World War I (1917-1918).  Soon after, they immigrated to New York City where their first son Charles Walden Dryden was born on September 16, 1920.

His son, Charles W. Dryden later became one of the first Tuskegee Airmen in the Army Corp’s 99th Pursuit Squadron flying P-51 Mustangs in combat missions in North Africa, Italy, and Germany in World War II and later during the Korean War. Charles L.T. Dryden was also the father of our beloved member Pauline Miles. She recalled her father’s nurture and encouragements to succeed, telling them to “go for it” and follow their dreams. They faced difficulties by remembering the mottos, “Nothing beats a trial but a failure” and “Not to worry, press on regardless.”[2]

Charles L.T. Dryden with family
Charles L.T. Dryden with wife Violet and their children: Charles, a Tuskegee Airman (right), Denis (back left) and Pauline (front left)

Both Mr. Dryden (as some of our members used to call him) and his daughter Pauline joined the First Presbyterian Church of Matawan on May 26, 1963, by letter of transfer from Elmwood Presbyterian Church in East Orange. Our Church also recorded him as an elected elder from 1968 to 1971. He served on the Worship Commission and Spiritual Life Commission where “he prepared communion elements and was the Session representative at all Baptism Services, meeting with the parents, directing them through the Service and presenting Certificates of Baptism” [1970 Annual Report].

Charles L.T. Dryden and wife Violet
Charles L.T. Dryden and wife Violet

Elder Hank McKee remembered his happiness and excitement when she and her daughter, Lori, first attended our Church in 1977. He always smiled and greeted everyone as they passed him in church. His voices while praying and singing were distinctive and soared above everyone else’s during services. He was remembered as kind, thoughtful, and very well respected by the congregation and ministers alike.

His daughter, Pauline Miles became an elder in 1995, she first served and then chaired the Nurture Commission. Later she served and led the Outreach and Witness Commission (before it later became Mission Commission). She worked at our food pantry, spearheaded our Church as an area organizer for CROP Walk, and was active with other social justice programs.


[1] “A-Train: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman” by Lieutenant Colonel Charles W. Dryden, University of Alabama Press, 1997 (page 8).

[2] Eriksen Institute (2012, February 29), Crazy About Airplanes: The Character of Charles Dryden, a Tuskegee Airman