HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah – The historic, barrier-breaking experiences of the Tuskegee Airmen were presented to an audience of more than 200 people April 20 at the Hill Aerospace Museum.
Two of the original Tuskegee Airmen, Theodore Lumpkin, who served as an intelligence officer, and Federick Henry, who served with the military police, during World War II presided along with family descendants belonging to the Tuskegee Airmen Heritage Foundation of Greater Sacramento.
Lumpkin and Lanelle Roberts Brent, the eldest daughter of George S. “Spanky” Roberts, the first cadet selected for the pilot program at Tuskegee, Alabama, both spoke about the challenges and successes Tuskegee Airmen experienced.
Tuskegee Airmen is the collective name for the African-American military pilots who participated in an “an experiment designed to fail” in 1941 to see if blacks were “teachable” to fly airplanes, which until then was strictly off limits for them.
The Tuskegee Airmen were named after the Tuskegee Army Airfield where they received their pilot and aircraft maintenance training.
Of the 3,000 who trained to fly at Tuskegee, only 1,000 graduated. About 650 were single-engine pilots, with the remainder qualified as bomber pilots who never saw combat.
Part of what makes their story unique is that while the Tuskegee Airmen served their country in the military, they were also dealing with segregation. Trainees faced racism and segregation at Tuskegee and other training bases such as Selfridge Field, Mich., and Walterboro Army Air Field, S.C.
The Tuskegee Airmen were not just military pilots, but also navigators, bombardiers, mechanics, instructors, crew chiefs, nurses, cooks and other support personnel who trained and served.
“There is a lot of history here. A lot of history that is never spoken about,” said Roberts Brent.
The Sacramento Chapter is the 56th and newest chapter of the national Tuskegee organization and this visit marked its first trip to Utah, said Chapter President Leonard Johnson. The chapter regularly travels making presentations and raising money for scholarships
“We are committed to continuing and honoring the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen through education,” said Johnson.
Those who attended the event were also given the opportunity to personally meet and speak with Lumpkin, Henry and descendants who attended the event. The event was organized by the Utah Military Academy’s Commandant Maj. Kit Workman.
“This heritage is important. These men helped to change history,” said Workman.