|"Go tell the world, passerby, that here in the ruins of Detroit, does the real legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen lie."|
By 1945, B-25 bomber squadrons with the 447th were deployed to Freeman Army Air Field outside Seymour, Ind., where Second Lieutenant Lawrence served as a navigator/bombardier. Although officers' clubs were officially desegregated under military regulars, commanders at Freeman Field refused to serve black officers.
In April 1945, Tuskegee Airmen, led by 2nd Lt. Coleman Young, who went on to become the mayor of Detroit, decided to challenge base authorities. Young was among 19 Airmen initially arrested after refusing to leave the club. Two other civil disobedience actions followed during a two-day protest, resulting in the arrests of 161 officers, including Lawrence.
Ultimately, the military secured only one conviction, nailing Lt. Robert Terry on a charge of jostling another officer during the protest. Terry was drummed out of the Army Air Corps with a $150 fine, loss of rank and a dishonorable discharge. But in 1995, Terry received a full pardon, a refund and restoration of rank. Other participating Tuskegee Airmen had letters of reprimand removed from their files.
Ninety-two percent of food options in the city come from party and liquor stores, forcing residents into making nutrition choices in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, according to a report released Thursday.
In 2008, the city's last two Farmer Jack stores closed, leaving Detroit without a major chain grocery store. Independent stores such as Mike's Fresh Market or Foodland are among the options some city residents use for groceries. Still, city residents spend nearly $200 million a year on groceries in stores outside the city, according to the report.
The Red Tails — the nickname comes from the paint job on their planes — finally got their chance at the big time in 1944, escorting heavy bombers over German territory. With their new orders, the Tuskegee Airmen not only lodged the war's most-successful track record in protecting long-range bombers from enemy attack, a feat even Pentagon brass couldn't overlook, but they also demolished notions of inferiority.
"It used to be said that the Tuskegee Airmen never lost a bomber to the enemy," says Brian Smith, president of the Tuskegee Airmen National Museum at Detroit's Fort Wayne. "But research shows we lost about 25 bombers in 205 missions. All the same, nobody else can brag about that kind of success rate."
Like much of the country, in World War II, the U.S. military was segregated with white and black servicemen on separate bases, and the latter mostly relegated to menial tasks far from the front lines. In particular, African-American pilots for much of the war were prevented from engaging the enemy in the air — instead doing "mop-up" operations far from the front, taking out Nazi trains and trucks.
"These men were superheroes," said Brian Smith, director of the Tuskegee Airmen National Museum in Detroit. "They actually did superhuman things during the war."
Smith, 54, said he was 12 when his father first told him their story. He called it inspirational and said a Tuskegee Airman taught him to fly.
More than 990 men trained at Tuskegee before it was shut down. About 400 of them flew missions over Europe and North Africa during the war, with ground fire or routine accidents killing 78 of them.
Many credit HBO's groundbreaking 1995 movie "The Tuskegee Airmen," for highlighting their historical feats. There have been several documentaries made, as well, including "Double Victory" and "Silver Wings & Civil Rights: The Fight to Fly."
Dr. Brian Smith, director of the Tuskegee Airmen National Museum at old Ft. Wayne in southwest Detroit, couldn't wait to see the film at a Saturday screening.
"The main thing we hope the movie will do is portray the Airmen as superheroes," Smith said. "I feel they are superheroes. And with superhero status, people, we hope, will research and find out who they were, what actually happened to them, what kinds of racial things they had to go through ... and in doing that, they'll search out the museum and find out about our youth programs and want to support us."
This much-decorated squadron of African-American pilots, whose P-51 Mustangs were painted with red tails, flew thousands of missions between 1943 and 1945. They discredited an outrageously racist 1925 Army War College study that asserted that blacks lacked the intelligence, ambition and courage to serve in combat. The mere existence of this movie and Mr. Lucas’s imprimatur could be seen as significant morale boosters for African-American men whose World War II service still remains woefully underrecognized.
This day we rescue a world from mysticism and tyranny and usher in a future brighter than anything we can imagine.
Detroit's status in 2012 is their true legacy.