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Permanent Tuskegee Airmen exhibit opens at New England Air Museum

 Tuskegee airmen. Front row, left to right: unidentified airman; Jimmie D. Wheeler (with goggles); Emile G. Clifton (cloth cap) San Francisco, CA, Class 44-B. Standing left to right: Ronald W. Reeves (cloth cap) Washington, DC, Class 44-G; Hiram Mann (leather cap); Joseph L. "Joe" Chineworth (wheel cap) Memphis, TN, Class 44-E; Elwood T. Driver? Los Angeles, CA, Class 44-A; Edward "Ed" Thomas (partial view); Woodrow W. Crockett (wheel cap); at Ramitelli, Italy, March 1945.
Toni Frissell
Library of Congress
The Tuskegee Airmen, seen in this photograph from Ramitelli, Italy, in March 1945, are now part of a permanent exhibit at New England Air Museum.

America’s first black military aviators fought two wars at the same time.

They fought the Nazis in the air during World War II.

“The Tuskegee Airmen escorted the bombers," said New England Air Museum President and CEO Stephanie Abrams. “We've interviewed former pilots, who are quite elderly now, from some of the bombers who say when they saw the red tails, which was the aircraft that the Tuskegee Airmen flew ... they knew that they had a chance of making it home.”

On the ground, the airmen had to fight a war against racism.

“Many of the airmen who came from the East got on the train to go to Tuskegee, and once they crossed the Mason-Dixon line, were taken off the train and put into the Jim Crow car,” Abrams said. “They are responsible, in many ways, for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. They're also a wonderful example of the unwavering power of the human spirit. So keeping their story alive is a way, I believe, for us to create a different future.”

The future is now at the New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks. That’s where you can find a new permanent exhibit called “The Tuskegee Airmen: Their Untold Stories.”

“What makes this exhibit different is that it's told through the eyes of the airmen themselves,” Abrams said. “We've actually had four of the original Tuskegee Airmen here at the museum twice before."

Abrams said the exhibit is also told through the eyes of the airmen's families.

"So you get a true, firsthand look at what their lives were like before, during and post war,” Abrams said.

The exhibit features numerous artifacts and videos that tell the story of the Tuskegee Airmen and the times they lived through.

And for the month of June from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the exhibit features a special, immersive video shown on the 160-degree panoramic screen of the Commemorative Air Force traveling Red Tails Theater.

“(It) is a beautiful theater and has incredible archival images on the outside of the airman,” Abrams said. “Inside there is a video that runs around 12 minutes, which tells the story of who they were and how they fought two wars and what their experience was like."

The need for an exhibit like this is particularly important today, Abrams said, in a time where forces are trying to fight against a complete accounting of history being taught.

“A lot of companies are actually taking their employees here for their diversity, equity and inclusion training,” Abrams said. “I think it's extremely important to get this story out in spite of the movement today — to kind of rewrite history.”

Learn more
You can find more information about “The Tuskegee Airmen: Their Untold Stories,” at www.tuskegeeneam.org.

John Henry Smith is Connecticut Public’s host of All Things Considered, its flagship afternoon news program. He's proud to be a part of the team that won a regional Emmy Award for The Vote: A Connecticut Conversation. In his 21st year as a professional broadcaster, he’s covered both news and sports.

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