Aided by a $10,000 grant, the Aviation Heritage Park has brought a traveling Tuskegee Airmen exhibit to Bowling Green.
Park board member Bob Pitchford said AHP wants people to understand the importance of the Tuskegee Airmen – a black Air Force unit that flew combat missions in World War II – as well as their connection to the late Glasgow-born aviation pioneer Willa Brown.
“We wanted to tell the public and teach the public about the Tuskegee Airmen and their contributions to World War II,” he said.
Brown, the first black woman to hold a U.S.-issued commercial pilot’s license and master mechanic’s license, will be honored as distinguished aviator at this year’s AHP Hangar Party on Saturday.
Pitchford said Brown co-founded the Coffey School of Aeronautics, the only place in the country that would teach people of color to fly, in the 1930s.
Many graduates of the Coffey School went on to become members of the Tuskegee Airmen, who were known as Red Tails because they painted the tails of their P51 Mustangs red.
“She was instrumental to teaching many pilots who would later go on to become Tuskegee Airmen,” he said.
“Rise Above,” the CAF Red Tail Squadron’s traveling exhibit, is “a 53-foot trailer that opens into a wrap-around theater,” Pitchford said.
The exhibit is in the Sears parking lot at Greenwood Mall and open free of charge Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m. to noon.
“They show a 30-minute movie that plays continuously all day and it’s free,” Pitchford said.
Pitchford said the Red Tails escorted Allied bombers, protecting them while on bombing runs, and developed a reputation for their skill and tenacity.
“They were known as the very best escorts to have,” he said.
Pitchford said he was happy to receive a $10,000 grant from the PPG Industries Foundation, which made bringing “Rise Above” to Bowling Green possible because it would allow AHP to highlight the connection Brown had to the Tuskegee Airmen.
“It is not just about one woman,” he said. “It is about a movement to bring black aviators into the American military and they proved themselves again and again.”
John Hardin, chairman of the African American Museum’s board of directors, said the museum contributed to AHP’s efforts to bring the exhibit to Bowling Green, putting forward a “modest donation” of less than $1,000. Hardin said he likes the documentary, which he saw when the exhibit was in town a few years ago.
“It’s very in-depth,” he said.
The Tuskegee Airmen played a valuable role in paving the way for other people of color serving in the military.
“They undermined the prospect that black soldiers couldn’t fly,” he said.
Hardin said the museum supports AHP’s efforts to bring more attention to Brown and her role in history.
“This ties in with our mission, which is to preserve, present, document and recover African American history and culture in the Bowling Green area,” he said.