|Walmart goes 365black, finding a BlackAtlas from American Airlines and riding My Black Journey via Amtrak along the way|
Walmart “History Teaching History” is an ongoing national educational and community-focused campaign that gives African-America heroes a platform to share their considerable knowledge and keys to success with young, aspiring hopefuls.
Unfortunately, in collective memory the Tuskegee Airmen’s story was in danger of becoming too precious to withstand critical inquiry. This reality became all too apparent on the January 31, 2007, broadcast of Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show.” Speaking on what he called “Black History Month Eve,” Larry Wilmore, identitied as the fake newscast’s “Senior Black Historian,” braced himself for February’s commemorative period. Wilmore joked that Black History Month served the sole purpose of “making up for centuries of oppression with twenty-eight days of trivia,” calling it a time when the American “bow our heads in solemn reverence for Harriet Tubman and the Tuskegee Airmen.” As if on cue, four days later the Coca-Cola Co. ran an advertisement during the television broadcast for Super Bowl XLI. In the advertisement, “Tuskegee 1941” served as one of exactly six moments worth celebrating in the combined history of black Americans and their preferred soft drink.
“Tuskegee 1941: Pilots prove heroism has no color,” ran the legend next to the image of a Coke bottle. But if the extent of the public understanding of the Tuskegee Airmen had progressed from complete ignorance to “Blacks can be great pilots” or “Blacks can be heroic” over the previous sixty years, it had not progressed much at all.
Wilmore’s satire struck deep. By the time he spoke, the Tuskegee Airmen had come to represent a feel-good story that Americans of all races and ethnictieis could tell themselves during the one month of the year when they were encouraged to think of black history as American history. The oversimplication of their experience threatened to reduce the Tuskegee Airmen to a collective cliché. The “Never lost a bomber” myth packaged their experience neatly and made it safe for mass consumption – just the thing for Black History Month.
That the news of the lost bombers broke shortly before the US Congress honored the Tuskegee Airmen with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor that body can award to civilians, was fortunate. When more than 300 of the original pilots and members of the support crews gathered in the Capitol Rotunda in March 2007 to receive the honor, the emphasis in the speeches from President George W. Bush, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and other was on the Airmen’s record in helping their country overcome white supremacy, not on the (mythical) record of the 332nd in combat. “I thank you for what you had done for African Americans, but more, I thank you for what you have done for America,” Powell told them. “You caused America to look into the mirror of its soul, and you showed America that there was nothing a black person couldn’t do. “(p. 176-177)
“On March 10, 1945, the respected and widely read Liberty magainze published “Dark Angels of Doom,” an article by influential black journalist Roi Ottley about the 332nd Fighter Group in combat. Ottley wrote that “in more than 100 combat missions in which the Red Tails have given escort cover to their ‘Big Friends’ – the long-range heavy bombers – they haven’t lost a single ship to enemy fighters!” By then the 332nd had flown more than 130 bomber escort missions, and had lost bombers on only six of those missions. But the group did not fly 100 missions before losing a bomber. In fact, the group lost bombers during its first few missions. (p. 1)