Throw-Back Thursday – A visit to Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site

My book, Forests, Alligators, Battlefields, won’t be out until early April, 2016. But I want to go back and revisit national parks in the Southeast. Isn’t it what Throw-back Thursday is all about?

Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site
Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site

You already know about the beauty and cultural artifacts of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. And though this is my home park, I’m going to use this spot to highlight lesser known park units in the Southeast.

I’m starting with Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Alabama. I visited this park about a year ago.

Tuskegee Institute and Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, a couple of miles down the road, are intimately connected in history. The Tuskegee Airmen explains how African American men got into military flight programs.

In 1939, Congress wanted to increase the number of civilian pilots who could be quickly turned into military personnel.  Because Tuskegee Institute had a good Civilian Pilot Training program, it was selected as a primary flight school for the army. The mild Alabama weather made year-round flying possible and the Tuskegee Institute knew how to work within a segregated environment.

Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site
Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site

Moton Field was the only place where African-Americans could obtain primary flight instruction.  All support personnel, such as mechanics, radio operators, and nurses were considered Tuskegee Airmen.

Eleanor Roosevelt visited Tuskegee in 1941 and asked to be taken on a flight. Pictures show Mrs. Roosevelt sitting in the back of a J-3 Piper Cub, wearing her distinctive hat and frilly blouse. Chief Civilian Flight Instructor Charles Alfred Anderson, at the controls, took her on a one-hour flight. Anderson, known today as the “Father of Black Aviation,” trained pilots until his death in 1996.

The historic site consists of several buildings, but only the two hangars are open to visitors. Hangar #1, an original building, contains a PT-17 Stearman and J-3 Piper Cub, both training planes.

Hangar #2 was opened a couple of years ago. The Duchess Arlene, the showpiece of this room, is a P-51D Mustang reproduction. See the picture above. The plane, suspended from the ceiling, has a red tail, red nose, and yellow bars on its wings. They painted the tails of their planes red because they had a lot of extra red paint. The aviators became known as the “Red Tail Angels.”

After I visited Tuskegee, I watched the movie “Red Tails” with Cuba Gooding Jr. It was an entertaining movie. I noticed a young David Oyelowo, playing a cut-up. More recently, Oyelowo was the star in another movie set in a national park unit. Which one?

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