Chap­pie James Mu­seum and Flight Acad­emy opens

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - By TROY MOON

PEN­SACOLA, Fla. - Chap­pie James' child­hood home in down­town Pen­sacola is now his­tory. But James, an Amer­i­can hero, might not be the last young per­son to walk the halls of the small home and make his­tory.

The Gen. Daniel “Chap­pie” James Mu­seum & Flight Acad­emy opened June 7. The his­toric home - where his mother also ran a school - is lo­cated at 1608 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

James was a leg­endary Air Force com­bat pi­lot and the first African Amer­i­can gen­eral in the U.S. mil­i­tary, earn­ing his fourth star Sept. 1, 1975, when he as­sumed com­mand of NORAD in Colorado.

He died Feb. 25, 1978, at the age of 58 and is buried at Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery.

“There might not be a statue of him,” said El­lis Jones, the Pen­sacola mu­seum's board pres­i­dent.

“But this is the next best thing.''

Bet­ter ac­tu­ally. Be­cause it's not just a sym­bol of past great­ness, but a work­ing lab for fu­ture achieve­ment.

The 900-square-foot home has been ren­o­vated and serves as a mu­seum, but an ad­di­tional struc­ture has been added - a 1,500-square­foot build­ing that will serve as head­quar­ters and class­rooms for the Gen. Daniel “Chap­pie” James Flight Acad­emy.

For 22 years, the flight acad­emy has run free camps for largely un­der­priv­i­leged chil­dren to learn about the science and me­chan­ics of flight. This year's flight acad­emy sum­mer camp runs June 11-16. But with a per­ma­nent fa­cil­ity, the acad­emy will now of­fer a year-round aero­nau­ti­cal pro­gram for boys and girls ages 13 to 18.

“This means that we will be able to have a liv­ing legacy for Gen. `Chap­pie' James through our flight acad­emy,” said acad­emy di­rec­tor Cliff Cur­tis. “It will add some­thing tan­gi­ble for the com­mu­nity kids to be in­volved in for years to come.”

The city of Pen­sacola and the Com­mu­nity Re­de­vel­op­ment Agency's $1.1 mil­lion ren­o­va­tion/con­struc­tion project broke ground in Jan­uary 2017.

The res­i­dence, which is listed on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places, was con­structed in 1909 by Chap­pie James' fa­ther, Daniel James Sr.

The home is not just a tes­ta­ment to Gen. James' legacy, but that of his mother, Lil­lie James, who ran a school next door for young black chil­dren. (And not just the fam­ily's own, even though the James fam­ily had 17 chil­dren.)

Jones said items are still be­ing added to the mu­seum, and other ad­di­tions will be made through­out the year.

“We're not at 100 per­cent now,” he said. “But we'll con­tinue adding ar­ti­facts that not only per­tain to him, but to his fam­ily and his mother and her ef­forts in shap­ing her son and so many young peo­ple in Pen­sacola.We want to in­spire oth­ers.”

James' story is cer­tainly in­spi­ra­tional.

Early in his life, he would see pi­lots fly­ing over down­town Pen­sacola and tell friends he was go­ing to do that some­day. Most laughed, know­ing the pi­lots fly­ing over­head weren't black like they were.

He was ed­u­cated by his mother un­til high school, when he at­tended and grad­u­ated from Booker T. Wash­ing­ton High School. He then at­tended Tuskegee In­sti­tute, where he earned a bach­e­lor's de­gree and com­pleted civil­ian pi­lot train­ing un­der a gov­ern­mentspon­sored pro­gram.

He en­tered the Army Air Corps Avi­a­tion Cadet Pro­gram and was com­mis­sioned as a sec­ond lieu­tenant in July 1943 and trained as a fighter pi­lot.

James flew 180 com­bat mis­sions dur­ing the Korean and Viet­nam wars, re­ceiv­ing nu­mer­ous hon­ors. He was a hard­core pa­triot and be­came known for his speeches on Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism, even at a time when many Amer­i­cans were still fight­ing for civil rights.

“He's one of the he­roes of Pen­sacola,” Jones said. “And the coun­try.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF WUWF.ORG

Child­hood home of Gen­eral Chap­pie James in Pen­sacola, Fl.

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