Back in the late 90’s Akua Rahsaan, Kofi Enterprises, and The Ester Davis Catalog, received several grants from the DeSoto Art Commission, entitled The Distinguished Art Series. Each year of the grant we brainstormed to create a greater and more renown assembly of African American archival history pieces for the month of February. These exhibits reaching a peak collection of five hundred works, held in the Atrium of DeSoto City Hall, surpassed all our expectations.
At Eagle Advantage School one “Career Day” I met a Chief Warrant Officer (CWO Walker) who was on the panel with me. His uncle was a ‘natural born Tuskegee Airmen’ living in Savannah, Georgia. I sent Airmen John Walker a letter for pictures from his training days at the Tuskegee Institute back in the 30’s.
I never met this Tuskegee in person, but we subsequently spent time on the phone. John Walker was jovial and extremely proud of his service to this country. There were other articles written about him and his days in training and flying. Airmen Walker sent his nephew a “tug” of photos for me. I was in total awe because many of the photos were of the support staff. i.e., the cooks, nurse, bombardiers, mechanics and machinist as pictured above.
These photos Airmen Walker said “nobody else had”. At the time, I thought he was right because all of the history of the Tuskegee Airmen were of the men who served. In the collection from Airmen Walker were stunning visuals of women working over and under the aircraft. With the receipt of these sobering pieces of history, we were inspired to go back in history, engage in more research and look up other women that were part of these first black aviators’ courageous odyssey. Just keep in mind that these days were laced loudly with discrimination both in and out of the military for black men and women.
My notes reminded me that there was a female writing about flying for the Chicago Defender back in the 30’s. The column was entitled “Negro Aviation”. The aviation trend continued to soar. The Coffey School of Aeronautics opened in 1938, where other women attempted to enter aviation to no avail. But the beauty is. . . they did not give up.
Years after the exhibits with the Black Pilots Association, someone mentioned Harlem Airport in Chicago. What? Where? There was “another Harlem” in predominate black South Chicago. In 1931, a group of pilots bought a half mile wide tract of land. Black Women are recorded as taking flying lessons. To date, historians consider it the first black owned airport in the United States.
To all the African American Soldiers. . . you are more than just veterans to this nation. . . you are sincerely the real heroes of veterans.