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Sun, Feb 04, 2007

National Museum Of The US Air Force Celebrates Black History Month

Highlights Contributions From Prominent Black Personnel

As part of the National Museum of the US Air Force's celebration of Black History Month, exhibits highlighting the accomplishments of and contributions from America's black aviators are featured throughout February.

Although their numbers are dwindling, many WWII veterans can recall the US military segregating black Americans into separate units during WWII.

Rob Barbua with the National Museum of the US Air Force tells ANN the US Army Air Forces gave blacks a unique opportunity even those bleak times: to conduct sophisticated engineering work in (albeit segregated) Engineering Aviation Battalions, or EABS.

These specially-trained units constructed concealed, maintained, and defended airfields in every theater, eventually disproving the belief at the time that blacks could not do complicated construction or engineering work. The museum's exhibit portrays a scene of black aviation engineers working on an airfield in the China-Burma-India Theater.

The Air Force published regulations dismantling segregation on June 1, 1949, becoming the first of all US military service branches to complete integration of black personnel into all-white units. This story is presented in an exhibit titled "Integration of the USAF."

The exhibit features Gen. Daniel "Chappie" James Jr., the Air Force's first black four-star general; Lt. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., the first of the famous Tuskegee Airmen to become a general; and the 332nd Fighter Group, a segregated black unit stationed at Lockbourne Air Base near Columbus, OH, that won first place in the conventional class category of the 1949 US Air Force Fighter Gunnery Competition.

A celebration of this kind would not be complete without an exhibit featuring the Tuskegee Airmen. On July 19, 1941, the AAF implemented a program in Alabama to train black Americans as military pilots. Primary flight training was conducted by the Division of Aeronautics of Tuskegee Institute, the legendary school founded by Booker T. Washington in 1881. The exhibit presents uniforms, photos, and other mementos of the Tuskegee Airmen.

The museum is the largest and oldest military aviation museum in the world. More than one million people annually visit the museum to see its nearly 350 aircraft and aerospace vehicles and to walk through more than 17 acres of indoor exhibit space.

FMI: www.nationalmuseum.af.mil, www.tuskegeeairmen.org

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