Tuskegee Airmen to Tell Their Stories at Upcoming Juneteenth Celebration

The Frederick Douglass Honor Society and the Academy Art Museum will host its Juneteenth Celebration on Saturday, June 16, 2012, beginning at 11 a.m. at the Academy Art Museum in Easton, Maryland.

This year’s Juneteenth Celebration will include a special screening of the new documentary “Double Victory” about the historic role of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II at 2:30 p.m. at the Avalon Theatre in Easton. These pioneering African Americans bravely fought a war on two fronts: fascism abroad and racial injustice at home. The documentary, “Double Victory,” was produced by George Lucas and serves as a companion to the feature film “Red Tails” now in theatres nationwide. A panel discussion will follow the screening, featuring original Tuskegee Airmen sharing their personal experience, moderated by Vic Carter, WJZ’S Eyewitness News Co-Anchor. The program is part of the Double Victory Museum Tour, which also includes an Education Guide and Faith Study Guide.

According to Byron Morris of Bowie, who served as President of the East Coast Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen between 2008 and 2010, and who will be a part of the panel discussion, “What is special about connecting the Tuskegee Airmen to the Juneteenth celebration in Easton is that it will help draw attention to these outstanding gentlemen, who were the first of their kind to do what they did.” He adds, “The Tuskegee Airmen represented a continuation of the hopes and dreams of that earlier time and what African Americans could become in their country.”

Morris graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in 1964, where he was an Air Force ROTC Cadet, with a degree in Electrical Construction Engineering, Over the years, he worked for IBM, the Air Force located at the Pentagon, and then as Deputy Base Civil Engineer at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, DC until his retirement in 2002. With an abiding interest in history, and particularly the Tuskegee Airmen, he joined the East Coast Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen. One of the highlights of his time with the organization has been serving as the Chairperson of its Speakers Bureau where he came to know a number of Tuskegee Airmen, facilitating them telling their stories to the community over the last 18 years.

The Tuskegee Airmen flew in the Mediterranean theater of operations, and completed 15,000 sorties in approximately 1,500 missions, destroyed over 260 enemy aircraft, sank one enemy destroyer, and demolished numerous enemy installations. They were awarded many high military honors, including Congressional Gold Medals, Distinguished Flying Crosses, Legions of Merit, Silver Stars, and Purple Hearts. According to the “Legends of Tuskegee Exhibition,” at Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site, National Park Service, the Tuskegee Airmen overcame segregation and prejudice to become one of the most highly respected fighter groups of World War II. Their achievements paved the way for full integration of the military — in 1948, President Truman enacted an Executive Order that directed equality of treatment and opportunity in all of the United States Armed Forces, which in time led to the end of racial segregation in the military.

After World War II ended in 1945, the country’s segregation and racial strife contributed to the Tuskegee Airmen keeping their stories quiet as they assimilated into American culture. Originally called the African-American 99th Pursuit Squadron, and later the 99th Fighter Squadron, the phrase “Tuskegee Airmen” was not coined until 1972 when a group of Tuskegee Airmen, including Bill Broadwater of Upper Marlboro, started Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. in Washington, DC, later known as the East Coast Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen. Broadwater served as past president of both organizations.

Today, Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. has 55 chapters and exists primarily to motivate and inspire young Americans to become participants in our nation’s society and its democratic process. Broadwater, who will be one of the other speakers at the upcoming Juneteenth event, completed the Aviation Pilot Program Class at Tuskegee Army Air Field in 1945 and served with the 477th Medium Bomber Group. After the war, he worked for 29 years for the Federal Aviation Administration as an Air Traffic Controller and senior official. He now operates a consulting firm specializing in air traffic control and aviation issues.

In addition to featuring the Tuskegee Airmen, the Juneteenth Celebration will host a small exhibition of the art of Tom Miller, a nationally-acclaimed African American artist from Baltimore known for joyous and whimsical paintings, prints, and furniture. Other activities will include a performance of African dance and music by the Sankofa Dance Theatre from Baltimore, songs by the Sombarkin’ trio and local church choirs, the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by Talbot County Public School students, and art projects for children and families.

Juneteenth, one of the most important African American holidays in the country, marks the abolition of slavery. It commemorates the date – June 19, 1865 – when the slaves in Galveston, Texas first received the word of the Emancipation Proclamation, which Abraham Lincoln had issued two and one-half years earlier on January 1, 1863. Over the past few decades, Juneteenth has reemerged as an important community holiday to commemorate Emancipation Day and celebrate African American achievements.

The program is free and open to the entire community. Support for the event has come from the Maryland State Arts Council, Talbot County Arts Council with funds provided by Talbot County and the Town of Easton, The Pocket Media Group, Konsyl Pharmaceutical, Orion Safety Products, and Total Home Performance. This program was also made possible by a grant from the Maryland Humanities Council (MHC), through support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH); any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the NEH or the MHC.

For more information about the Juneteenth Celebration, visit the Frederick Douglass Honor Society at http://www.frederickdouglasshonorsociety.org/ or the Academy Art Museum at http://www.academyartmuseum.org/. For more information about the Double Victory Museum Tour, visit www.teamredtails.com.

In photo: Double Victory Poster (Courtesy of Lucasfilms, Ltd.)

In photo, above: Pictured is Byron Morris of Bowie, who served as President of the East Coast Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen between 2008 and 2010, and who will be a part of the Juneteenth showing of the documentary, “Double Victory” and panel discussion about the Tuskegee Airmen this coming Saturday at the Avalon Theatre in Easton, MD, at 2:30 p.m. The event is free and sponsored by the Frederick Douglass Honor Society and the Academy Art Museum.