Exhibit Honors Black Pioneers Who Opened Up The Skies

Black History A Celebration

February 05, 1992|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff writer

Lt. Hubron Blackwell had hoped to become a commercial pilot after World War II. But the decorated veteran never got a chance.

Blackwell, who died in 1989, was one of the first black men to fly combat missions for the military, but racial discrimination kept him from flying commercially. Instead, he became a teacher in Baltimore's public school system.

Blackwell's life has not gone unnoticed. Now, people who fly in and out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport can read about him and many others who broke through military segregation to serve the United States in war.

As part of Black History Month, the Maryland Aviation Administration has launched a speaking tour and a tributeto blacks in the aviation field. The month-long exhibit opened Saturday.

"I think this is something that should have been done a long time ago," said Richard Blackwell, Blackwell's son, who lives in Baltimore.

MAA administrator Ted Mathison said the program will educate the public about the aviation industry while paying tribute to heroes who received little publicity.

"It is about time the accomplishments of those who protected our country will be recognized," he said.

Theodore Robinson, an aircraft acquisition analyst for the Federal Aviation Administration, said pilots, regardless of color, share aspecial affection for the job.

"If you are born to fly, a little thing like racial segregation will not get in the way," he said.

Saturday's keynote speaker, Charles Alfred "Chief" Anderson, 84, said the first black combat pilots had to overcome a great deal of racism to prove they could do the job. "Officers were determined to prove that these guys were not going to be able to fly," he said.

Andersonwas one of the trainers for the Tuskegee Experiment, named for a small, remote airfield in Tuskegee, Ala., that served as the training site for 966 black pilots who wanted to prove themselves competent to fly in World War II.

Anderson said the Tuskegee pilots proved themselves more than capable, but they were not allowed to fly against theGermans. Instead, they were sent to North Africa, where they were responsible for bombing bridges, roads and ammunition dumps in advance of ground troops.

Then, a squadron was allowed to fly over Europe."They shot down 16 airplanes on the first day," Anderson said. "Theyset a record. Lucky Lester went up one day and got three kills in one flight."

After that, the Tuskegee airmen escorted bombers on runs over Europe. "And how many bombers were lost during that time?" he asked the audience.

"None," they responded.

"Excuse me," Anderson retorted. "Not a damn one. They really opened up the skies for therest of us."

In addition to the tribute to Blackwell, the exhibitdocuments the experiences of groups such as the Triple Nickles, the first black paratroopers who served with the 82nd Airborne, and individuals such as John W. Greene Jr., who in 1929 was the second American black to get a commercial pilot's license.

In 1941, Greene opened the first black-operated airport in the United States, an eight-runway facility in Prince George's County called Columbia Air Center. Atits peak, it handled 150 flights per hour. It closed in 1958.

Theaviation exhibit is on the second floor at BWI behind the Delta Airlines counter.

The seminars will take place at 11 a.m. Feb. 11, 18 and 23, in the E-1 Hold Room.

Speakers will include Sol Hamilton, president of the John W. Greene chapter of Negro Airmen International, and Ray Williams, of the Triple Nickles Baltimore chapter.

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