As students filled into the Washington Sankofa Room, they were eager to hear about the history of the Tuskegee Airmen and the trials and tribulations they had to endure.
The students would not be disappointed and received more than they expected. Last Wednesday, the Black Alumni Society and the Kappa Lambda Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. hosted the event that was titled “The Tuskegee Airmen.” Members of the fraternity gave the audience a brief history and accomplishments of the two guest speakers, Mr. Leonard “Hawk” Hunter and Mr. Harold Webb.
Mr. Hunter, who is a charter member of the Wilson V. Eagleson Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc. in Goldsboro, NC and a Vietnam veteran, was the first one to educate the audience about the history of the distinguished group and his experiences while serving in the military.
He asked everyone, who had seen the movie The Tuskegee Airmen, a movie that stars Laurence Fishburne, Courtney B. Vance, and Cuba Gooding Jr., just to name a few. In the movie, the story of this distinguished group of men is portrayed. Hunter stated he was happy the movie was made because it put the Tuskegee Airmen on the map. However, he also said that the movie itself was not a documentary but 95 percent of what was in the movie is true. After the short questionnaire, he gave the audience a history lesson about the Tuskegee Airmen.
The Tuskegee Airmen started as an experiment by Congress. The initial outcome of the experiment was a failure. Initially, they were not allowed to go overseas, because many people during that time period felt that African-Americans did not have the intellectual capacity to fight in combat, let alone fly an airplane. This was the case until the Airmen were visited by, then First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who was a passenger of a plane which was flown by one of the airmen. Later, after this incident and constant pressure from the public for participation of African-Americans in the war, the Roosevelt administration created the first all-black air unit, the ninety ninth Pursuit Squadron. The unit flew over 2,000 soldiers for over 200 missions to Germany and never lost a single person, a fact that is unknown to some and something Mr. Hunter gladly shared with the audience. Before he concluded his lecture, fighting back tears, Hunter stated that the Tuskegee Airmen were not greeted with open arms as their white counterparts and that it was not until 2007 that they finally received the Congressional Gold Medal.
When it was his turn, Mr. Webb, who was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II and who moved to Raleigh in 1962, gave a recollection of the events he had seen and experienced as if they had happened yesterday. He began his speech by informing the audience that during that time period, there were only six colleges in the entire United States that offered flying classes to African-Americans; these included the Tuskegee Institute, NC A&T State University, Howard University, and Delaware State University; Mr. Webb also added that all the Tuskegee Airmen had graduated from college. He touched on the recent occasions that had honored the airmen, which included a sculpture that was built right here in Raleigh, NC at Chavis Park; it features a flock of flying birds and two of the Tuskegee airplanes, representing the Tuskegee airplane that was once situated in the park years ago.
He went on to talk about the airfield where they had trained is now a national park in honor of the work done by the Tuskegee Airmen.
At the conclusion, he mentioned that the surviving members were invited to the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama, many of whom attended were honored to be a part of this monumental event in U.S. history. The program was ended with questions from the audience.
After the program, people had a chance to look at pictures of the airmen and a replica of the Congressional Gold Medal and to meet Mr. Hunter and Mr. Webb. Many students enjoyed and were very humbled at the opportunity to hear these two men speak.
Russell Wilson, a sophomore in communication, felt that the people in attendance had learned a great deal of adversity and with what they had gone through, serves as a great source of inspiration to anyone.
Sharese Marsh, a sophomore in psychology, said the event was an eye-opener and particularly touching when Mr. Hunter talked about the airmen not being recognized after the end of the war, considering all they had done for the country. This sentiment was shared with Stephanie Cogdell, President of the Black Alumni Society, who said that she became very emotional when the two speakers were talking about their experiences. She also reflected that she was pleased with the efforts of the Black Alumni Society and the Kappa Lambda Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. and their ability to attract N.C. State students, faculty/staff, and alumni to such meaningful programs. She hopes in the future there will be more events like this hosted.