Congress voted to award the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor to the Tuskegee Airmen as a group. The ceremony is set for Washington, D.C., in the Capitol Rotunda, for March 29, 2007.
This is another great story of Americans, otherwise held down in their daily life, who rise to meet a monstrous challenge. They not only met the challenge but achieved a degree of triumph beyond what anyone had hoped. The story is a natural segue to the post World War II civil rights movement, and it fits nicely into studies of the war or studies of civil rights. News items around the time of the ceremony should update the history of the Tuskegee Airmen and provide good photos for classroom presentations.
“It’s sort of an open validation of the Tuskegee Airmen, that we fought stereotypes, overcame them and prevailed,” said Roscoe Brown, an 85-year-old Riverdale, N.Y., resident who graduated from the Tuskegee program in 1944. “This is the ultimate when your nation recognizes you.”
The gold medal, equivalent to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, is awarded to individuals or groups for singular acts of exceptional service and for lifetime achievement. The Tuskegee fliers will join a distinguished group of recipients that includes George Washington, Winston Churchill, Rosa Parks, the Wright brothers and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., introduced identical bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate in 2005 to give the airmen the congressional medal. The Senate bill passed in October 2005 and the House followed in February 2006. President Bush signed the bill into law last April.
It is also a story of racism and bureaucratic bungling delaying appropriate recognition to heroes for 60 years.
Lee Archer, 87, of New Rochelle, is America’s first black flying ace.
“It shows the country is trying to right an old wrong,” Archer said. “I never thought we would get it, but we would have done it without any recognition … . My family is very excited. I am, too.”
Of the 994 black aviators who got their training at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama beginning in 1942, fewer than 385 are still alive. On March 4, Edgar L. Bolden, 85, who trained at Tuskegee and flew P-47s, died in Portland, Ore.
- “Tuskegee Airmen Facts” from Tuskegee University
- “American Visionaries” site from the National Park Service.
- History Channel video with Tuskegee native Lionel Richie talking about the Airmen, with a quiz about a hero from the group and connections to President Truman
- Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.
- Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, Alabama