Museum welcomes Tuskegee Airmen
by Talia Mollett KENNESAW-The Museum of History and Holocaust Education at Kennesaw State…
Georgia (Nov 18, 2009) —
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KENNESAW-The Museum of History and Holocaust Education at Kennesaw State University unveiled its newest exhibit Tuesday, called The Tuskegee Airmen: The Segregated Skies of World War II.
The free exhibit was created by students enrolled in the university's museum studies class, and will be on display for public viewing at the KSU Center through January.
Several of the original Tuskegee Airmen attended the debut, including Val Archer, 81, of Stockbridge, Ga.
Archer enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1945. He would go on to spend 22 years on active duty.
"I can see my history and experience on these walls here. They really did a good job with the exhibit," he said. "I think we have a legacy that is important that we're leaving for generations that follow us. There's a message in it that's uniquely American. It has something to do with determination, courage, ability and lots of really good adjectives that relate to character. For young people today, there needs to be not only hope, but encouragement for something to build on and not just stand on our shoulders."
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first black pilots to fly in combat during World War II. In 1941, the U.S. Army established a segregated training program for black pilots at Moton Field in Tuskegee, Ala. Over the next five years, more than 1,000 pilots trained in what became known as the Tuskegee Experiment.
Archer said the pilots were supposed to fail.
"The experiment was extensively to demonstrate that we were not qualified and did not have the courage. Based on a study of the use of black manpower in the World War, there was a dissertation that allegedly said we were unqualified, had small brains and were pretty awful people. That was the prevailing idea of what was to be expected of black soldiers at the time," he said. "We came out of a deep hole to demonstrate that we were in fact qualified and could perform quite well. No mention of it was heard after the war. It became pretty evident we were very successful."
The Red Tails, the nickname given to the Tuskegee pilots in combat because their planes in their unit had red tails, compiled a stellar record during World War II.
"They exceeded everyone's expectations," said Samuel Jones, spokesman for the Atlanta chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. "When the war began, Americans did not want them to fly. Before it was over, the Germans did not want them to fly."
By the end of World War II, the Tuskegee Airmen had shot down 111 enemy aircraft and destroyed another 150 on the ground, and also destroyed 600 boxcars and locomotives, Jones said.
Archer said the airmen helped pave the way for desegregation, both in the military and on the streets.
"I think we're part of the beginning of the story of diversity. I think we leave a legacy of success, overcoming and meeting the challenges that come with segregation and discrimination," he said.
President Harry Truman integrated the U.S. military in 1948.
Jason Lutz, a student in the museum studies program at KSU, spoke on behalf of the class at the unveiling. Students in the class served as curators at the exhibit's opening.
"It's every curator's dream to have a story to tell like that of the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II," he said. "I would like to thank them for their inspiring story of heroism that will hopefully be told for years to come."
The Tuskegee Airmen: The Segregated Skies of World War II will be moved in January for display at the Auburn Avenue Research Library in Atlanta.
For more information on Museum of History and Holocaust Education programs or to reserve The Tuskegee Airmen exhibit for a venue, visit www.kennesaw.edu/historymuseum or call (678) 797-2083.
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.