By Diana Leyva
Black History Month activities are in full swing at Volunteer State Community College as Diversity and Inclusion hosted a lecture on the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African American men who flew and operated aircrafts in Europe during WW2. The lecture was given by the manager of Diversity and Inclusion, Jeff King, Wednesday, February 5th in the Mary Cole Nichols Dining Hall B. Pork tenderloin, mashed potatoes, caesar salad, cookies, water and sweet tea prepared by the Vol State cafeteria were served. There was a turnout of 31 people, students and faculty.
King discussed how in the early 1940’s German pilots were dominating the skies with their use of state-of-the-art aircrafts, and soon more airmen and technicians were required on the frontlines, regardless of their race. Thus with the help and support of the NAACP and other African American organizations, the Tuskegee institute was established in Alabama. King discussed how the Tuskegee Airmen overcame prejudice and adversity, and soon gained wide recognition and accolades. However more often than not, they were victims of bigotry and hate crimes upon their return home.
King mentioned how First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was a staunch supporter for the airmen and even flew in an aircraft with an African American pilot. He also very passionately discussed how Benjamin O. Davis, the first African American general in the United States air force, led the airmen and became a voice not only for the pilots but also for a generation of ignored African Americans and their war efforts. With a lump in his throat, he discussed the magnitude of the Tuskegee Airmen’s success and how bomber pilots began requesting the Tuskegee airman fly them over Europe. His presentation was accompanied by a slideshow as well as a short documentary and a brief clip from a Tuskegee Airmen biopic.
When asked how important he believes it is for young African Americans to be aware of these stories, he responded that it is important for everyone to be aware of these moments in history, not just African Americans or people of color. “I think it’s important for everybody, we should understand our history and how we got here. I also feel like if you don’t know your history you don’t know where you came from,” said King.
King said although not typical of him, he sometimes gets a little bit emotional informing people about these stories due to his connections to the military and the Air Force. “Knowing the sacrifices it’s something that’s important to me as I continue to learn and grow, to try and understand so I can do my job better,” stated King.