The National Park Service asked the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association last month to help define a new national historic site at Moton Field, Alabama, to preserve and interpret the history of the Tuskegee Airmen, America's first black combat pilots.
AOPA met in February with Park Service officials, representatives of the National Air and Space Museum and the Naval Aviation Museum, local tourism officials, and others including surviving airmen themselves. Host for the event was Alabama's Tuskegee University, the former Tuskegee Institute—the leading historically black institution selected early in World War II to support training of the airmen.
This select group of pilots ultimately served with distinction in Africa and Europe in segregated, all-black squadrons. No bomber escorted by the airmen's famed "Red Tail" P-51 fighters was ever lost to enemy action. Their exemplary combat performance was a direct precursor to President Truman's desegregation of the U.S. military by executive order in 1948.
The Tuskegee experience also encompasses compelling personal stories of legendary flight instructor "Chief" Anderson and [General] Benjamin O. Davis and others who would be trail blazers in post-war military and civilian aviation. The Moton Field site also recalls First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt's pointed visit and daring, impromptu flying lesson with pilots that American society said were not good enough for military flying.
Congress has already authorized (but not yet appropriated) $29.1 million to restore historic hangars, buildings, and ramp in a corner of Moton Field, today Tuskegee's municipal airport. Park Service officials believe it would be the only restored World War II primary training base in the United States.
Tuskegee University plans to donate adjacent land for a Tuskegee Airmen National Center museum and interpretive facility overlooking the site. The national center would be financed by private contributions.
The entire complex, just steps away from the Moton Field runway and ramp, would be an attractive destination for private fliers, including those en route to and from Florida. A cooperative education proposal would promote the facility as a destination for student cross-country flights, especially for local aviation-degree students and numerous military training operations in the region. A fully implemented historical complex would aid development of Moton Field and its role in the community, an economically depressed area.
Located just one-quarter mile from Interstate 85 (the main Atlanta-to-New Orleans route), the project offers significant potential for regional tourism. It would be one of three area attractions commemorating key civil rights struggles of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Others include a Rosa Parks bus boycott national site and the Selma-to-Montgomery Trail.
AOPA Senior Vice President of Communications Drew Steketee assisted the session to help the Park Service design a project for multiple national and regional audiences, including the military and aviation communities.
"You can't walk this hallowed ground of aviation and civil rights history without being touched by what it all meant to America," said Steketee. "And walking the site with surviving Tuskegee Airmen themselves was a real honor."
"This will be more than just another aviation museum."
March 7, 2000