Tuskegee airmen will help Selma take flight

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 27, 2008

The issue:

The Tuskegee Airmen are coming to Selma

Our position: This is another way our history can benefit our economy

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A lesson in history: The Tuskegee airmen were pilots who flew during World War II as the 332nd Fighter Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps.

Prior to this group, no black men had been allowed to pilot military aircraft in battle.

Ironically, the War Department tried to shoot down the unit.

It allowed only those with a certain amount of experience or with higher education to join. The authorities in the War Department thought there were not enough black men with those qualifications to make a unit.

They came by the droves. In June 1941, the 99th Fighter Squadron officially formed at the Tuskegee Institute. The men trained under Capt. Benjamin O. Davis, a graduate of West Point.

But it was not until Maj. Noel Parrish arrived on base that Congress was petitioned to allow the airmen to serve in combat. The House Armed Services Committee held hearings.

And despite invalid claims of inferiority by so-called experts, the majority of the committee decided in favor of the airmen. Three squadrons formed the 332nd Fighter Group.

Based in North Africa, they battled the Luftwaffe and won along the Mediterranean shores, and eventually earning two Distinguished Unit Citations before moving to Italy on the European mainland. They flew escorts for heavy bombers on raids in Austria, Hungary, Poland and Germany.

They were known by the Luftwaffe as “Black Birdmen.”

On May 22, some of those famous airmen will come to Selma as part of a partnership with Tuskegee for the 41st annual fly-in by members of Tuskegee Airmen Inc. The fly-in will include a host of events – a breakfast at the St. James Hotel, a tour of the city and the first Wings and wheels Tailgate Party at Craig Air Force Base, which will be free to the public.

Mayor James Perkins Jr. has done well to see the opportunity here and form an alliance with Tuskegee Airmen Inc. and Tuskegee’s mayor to have these events in Selma.

The people and merchants of Selma will benefit from this event.