Tuskegee Airmen Site Dedication Draws More than 1,500TUSKEGEE, Ala.
History is at home in Tuskegee, where Tuskegee Institute’s endeavor to build an airfield led to trained African Americans who dared to become combat airmen in World War II.
History was made again last month on the grounds of Moton Airfield, when more than 1,500 people crowded into and outside of a historic hangar and celebrated the official opening of a temporary visitor center at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.
The site is a partnership of Tuskegee University, the National Park Service and Tuskegee Airmen Inc. When construction is complete, the site will feature a Visitor Information Center, Library/Archives Research Center, Tuskegee University’s Department of Aviation Science, a theater and fully renovated historical structures.
Hundreds of Tuskegee Airmen were on hand for the site dedication, arriving by the busloads from their weeklong annual convention in Atlanta. Many of them were proud of the progress toward making the congressionally established Tuskegee Airmen site happen.
“Five years ago when I came down here this place was in shambles,” said Tuskegee Airmen Hampton E. Johnson of Washington, who served from 1942 to 1946. “The hangar’s windows were all knocked out. The roof was deteriorating. There has been quite an improvement. I’ve been amazed.”
In 1998, Congress passed legislation authorizing $29 million for the first phase of the Tuskegee Airmen site. So far, only $3.1 million has been released to stabilize existing structures, including the red-brick hangar and tower.
Now it’s time to release the remaining funds and appropriate more so that these patriots who fought so valiantly for their country can see the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site become a reality, says Dr. Benjamin F. Payton, president of Tuskegee University.
“See to it that all of that money is appropriated for the first phase of development, and more importantly, see to it that the other $50 million or $60 million is put together to make this the most magnificent site in honor of the most magnificent people that America has known,” Payton says.
Though critics may be inclined to favor private sector fund raising and discourage requests to the government for additional funds to complete the site, Payton believes otherwise.
“We ought to raise funds everywhere, but I particularly believe that most of it should come from the federal government. We need to get this job done, and we need to get it done now. We can’t wait 10 years for a private fund-raising campaign,” Payton said in a moving speech as federal, state and local dignitaries listened.
The story of the Tuskegee “Experience” began with the initial training at Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, in 1941 after African American leadership exerted pressure on Congress to pass the 1939 Civilian Pilot Training Act.
Tuskegee was awarded the U.S. Army Air Corps contract to help train America’s first African American military aviators because it had already invested in the development of an airfield, had a proven civilian pilot training program and its graduates performed highest on flight aptitude exams. From 1940-1946, 1,000 Black pilots were trained at Tuskegee.
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