AIR­MEN

The Covington News - - Front page -

bar­rier, vis­ited Good Hope Bap­tist Church Satur­day af­ter­noon to share their his­tory and per­sonal sto­ries.

While Archer told the youth to look to the fu­ture, he also called them to re­mem­ber the past — a past that would bet­ter rep­re­sent their her­itage. For the first time, Archer said, au­thors were beginning to tell some of the World War II sto­ries of the era black sol­diers and res­i­dents. In­cluded in the res­i­dent group are the blacks who suf­fered per­se­cu­tion in Ger­many.

“There was a black Holo­caust in Ger­many too. They ex­pected to kill all blacks around the world,” Archer said.

Bridg­ing the gap be­tween the past and fu­ture is a tough chal­lenge, one the Air­men at­tempt to tackle through nu­mer­ous youth pro­grams, in­clud­ing their ACE Camp, which starts in June. The dead­line for the one week camp is May 1. For more de­tails visit at­lantchap­ter­tus­keegeair­men.com.

“We need to re­cruit younger peo­ple to work with the Tuskegee Air­men,” said Gre­gory Grant, a torch­bearer of the At­lanta chap­ter.

Col. Lou Jenk­ins told the few youth in the au­di­ence that at­ti­tude, not ap­ti­tude, was the key to suc­cess. Us­ing him­self as an ex­am­ple, Jenk­ins talked about his love for avi­a­tion. How­ever, dur­ing test­ing it was de­ter­mined he didn’t have 20/20 vi­sion, a re­quire­ment to be a lead pi­lot. He was of­fered the role of a back­seat radar nav­i­ga­tor, but he de­cided in­stead to go into mis­siles. The only black mem­ber of a five-per­son crew, Jenk­ins worked in mis­siles for more than 20 years.

Be­cause of his hard work and skill, Jenk­ins and his team was se­lected to launch a mis­sile, some­thing, iron­i­cally, many mis­sile ser­vice mem­bers never get to do. Jenk­ins said in his day he was privy to much top-se­cret in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing the de­vel­op­ment of the U-2 high-fly­ing spy plane. He said he was the first and only black per­son to work in the pro­gram. Dur­ing his years of mil­i­tary ser­vice, Jenk­ins said he got the chance to travel around the world and make a lot of money, be­cause he never had to spend any of his earn­ings.

One of the most pop­u­lar ques­tions asked by au­di­ence mem­bers didn’t deal with the war, but rather with the re­cep­tion and treat­ment the black air­men re­ceived when they re­turned home. Archer said one of the first things they no­ticed was the “col­ored” and “white” exit signs that still ex­isted. When looking for em­ploy­ment, sol­diers were still faced with sep­a­rate want ads for “whites” and “Ne­groes.”

“Some ads stressed do not ap­ply if you’re a Ne­gro. We flew so many sor­ties, over 15,000 dur­ing the course of 18 months. We had a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence for young peo­ple. But Amer­ica was not a nice place for black peo­ple in the 1930s and 40s. They didn’t care how much ex­pe­ri­ence you had in the way,” Archer said, com­ment­ing that the first black com­mer­cial air­line pi­lot wasn’t hired un­til well af­ter World War II, in 1964.

The Rev. Thomas Bris­tow, At­lanta chap­ter pub­lic af­fairs mem­ber, re­called ap­ply­ing for a job and be­ing passed over for a white per­son who didn’t even ap­ply, but sim­ply walked in to the store. He re­called be­ing forced to sit in the back of the bus and not be­ing al­lowed on the dance floor of cer­tain clubs.

Jenk­ins said a black twostar gen­eral, a higher rank­ing of­fi­cer, cau­tioned Jenk­ins about re­tir­ing, say­ing, “the jobs don’t just come.”

An au­di­ence mem­ber asked the air­men why they fought for a coun­try that didn’t ap­pre­ci­ate them. That’s one of the most pop­u­lar ques­tions the air­men get asked, Jenk­ins said.

“This is our coun­try. If we didn’t fight, we wouldn’t have ad­vanced,” Jenk­ins said. “De­spite all of its im­per­fec­tions, this coun­try is still the great­est in the world.

It was the ef­forts of groups like the Tuskegee Air­men that helped spur the civil rights move­ment into action. The 450 fighter pi­lots, 965 to­tal air force crew­men par­tic­i­pated in 15,551 flights and com­pleted 1,578 mis­sions, ac­cord­ing to a video. Their suc­cess led to black pi­lots be­ing trained to fly larger, more com­plex planes like bombers — a re­ver­sal of the army’s race pol­icy.

“The Tuskegee air­men were the tip of the civil rights spear,” said Sa­muel Jones, At­lanta chap­ter events co­or­di­na­tor.

Though less than 250 of the orig­i­nal air­men are still liv­ing, more than 425,000 black Amer­i­cans now serve in the armed forces.

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