Profile - The CAF Red Tail Project

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South St. Paul, MN, United States
The mission of the Commemorative Air Force's (CAF) Red Tail Squadron is to preserve and share the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America's first black military pilots. The Airmen served with distinction during WWII (and beyond). They overcame racism on the ground to fight fascism in the air, fighting for a country that turned a blind eye to policies and a large population that discriminated against these men and their families because of the color of their skin. The CAF Red Tail Squadron restored and flies a red-tailed P-51C Mustang such as the Airmen flew during WWII. The airplane appears at air shows in North America and at each stop her crew tells the story of the Airmen and how through persistence and courage they overcame huge obstacles in order to serve in the military. In 2011, the CAF Red Tail Squadron developed a traveling exhibit called "RISE ABOVE" to educate people - especially young people - about the Airmen and how they demonstrated the importance of setting goals and overcoming obstacles in order to succeed.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Henry Ford Museum – Part 3 of 3


     Today’s final blog entry about the Henry Ford Museum is a bit of a mixed bag.  We’ll wrap up the aviation segment with the “record setters.” 
     We’ve already touched on Charles Lindbergh and his role as an airmail pilot.  His “Wow” moment was, of course, when he flew alone non-stop from New York to Paris to win the $25,000 Orteig prize (about $335,000 in today’s dollars)  and the adulation of the world.  The Museum “only” has a replica of his airplane, The Spirit of St. Louis, but even this is special.  A Ryan B-1 Brougham was modified for use in the 1957 movie about that adventure, which starred James Stewart as Lindbergh.  Mr. Stewart, a noted private and WWII military pilot, later purchased that replica.  [When you’re done reading the blog, I encourage you to click the link at the bottom to  Stewart’s wikipedia page and read about his military career during WWII.  Just the fact that he was one of only a few Americans to be promoted from private to colonel in four years should give you some idea of the depth of his desire to serve during the war.]
     After his record-setting flight, Charles Lindbergh was an American hero of such proportion that, as happens today with popular culture icons, the media covered his life extensively.  I loved this one-pager that “explained,” using his facial features, why he (here referred to as "Plucky," one of two popular nicknames (the other was "Lucky")) was destined to be a hero.

Here's the copy in case you can't read it:
Hair - blond: daring, aggressive
Rounded head: courage
Top of nose where it touches forehead: defiance to obstacles
Ridge of nose: sensitiveness and genius
Tip of nose: power
Upper lip: self control and masterfulness
Face as a whole: retiring and shy

     It would be interesting to know how this “retiring and shy” Minnesota kid reacted to such "analysis"!

     Once the Atlantic crossing challenge had been conquered, the next major aviation records to go after included crossing the entire Pacific non-stop as well as flying around the world.  Neither goal was easy, but Americans Clyde Pangborn and Hugh Herndon flew from Japan to the state of Washington in October, 1931.  Australian Charles Kingsford Smith accomplished the first around-the-world flight in 1929.
     Amelia Earhart sought both records – and many others - and as most people know, her second attempt to be the first woman to complete a global circumnavigation was not successful - she flew her Lockheed Electra into oblivion over the south Pacific.  The Henry Ford has staged its Lockheed Vega to honor Earhart, who flew a Vega as the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1932, and recount her history as a pioneering pilot.

     A local (as in Detroit) duo also attempted to fly around the world.  William S. Brock and Edward F. Schlee flew their 1927 Stinson-Detroiter, named Pride of Detroit, east in August, 1927 and made it to Japan where they decided trying to cross the Pacific by air was not feasible.  This decision was reinforced by the news that at the same time they were flying their world-wide route, organized attempts to fly from northern California to Hawaii had resulted in the loss of 10 lives and six airplanes. Even though they didn’t complete the entire trip, after crossing the Atlantic they had flown from England to Japan in just 18 days and were treated as heroes when they got home.





     After spending a couple of hours (and taking 78 photos…) in the Heroes of the Sky exhibit, I finally let our party move on!  The Henry Ford – naturally – has an extensive display of automobiles and trains, including an absolutely enormous steam locomotive.  They also display a snowplow for a train.  It’s hard to imagine how much snow it moved when in action.

     The Museum has tied some of the automobiles on display to the American spirit of freedom on the road as cars became more and more popular and people actually traveled away from home in them.  The Museum staff recreated a complete 1950’s era Holiday Inn motel room and had numerous other displays demonstrating what travel was like in the mid-20th century.  I particularly enjoyed seeing what they came up in the very early days in order to use a vehicle as a camper.

     The exhibit doesn’t back away from the fact that only white Americans truly had freedom of the road. Black Americans were still turned away from hotels and restaurants in many cities.  One panel was devoted to an entrepreneur who did something about that by opening a motel that catered to black travelers.

      An exhibit entitled "With Liberty and Justice For All" ties the Civil War to the struggle for racial equality in the 1960s.  There is a lot of  information about the roots of slavery in the south and Lincoln’s role as President during the war that would end it.   This map is a sort of early version of the "blue" and "red" states we are familiar with during election years, but it shows very graphically which states allowed slavery (red) and which opposed it (black).  Blue states were neutral.  I was struck by the huge gap in the country at that time - think of all the states that had yet to be admitted to the Union as of the mid-1800s!
 
     The chair that Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot at Ford’s (no relation to Henry) Theater in April, 1965 makes one pause and really take it in.  Bloodstains still are visible at the top.
       
      The U.S. military’s policy of racial discrimination affected the Tuskegee Airmen while they were training at Tuskegee, Alabama and throughout their military careers during World War II.  The armed services were desegregated in 1948 and black service members found more doors open to them.  Unfortunately, the prejudice the Airmen endured in the 1940s was still going strong throughout most of the South years later and it affected virtually every black American who lived in the region. 
     On December 1, 1955, a 42-year-old black woman, who was born in Tuskegee,  got on a Montgomery (Ala.) city bus to go home after work.  Rosa Parks sat down towards the front of the bus. Stop after stop, the bus got more crowded.  The bus driver told Ms. Parks to move to the back of the bus – behind the sign he was in charge of placing in the bus aisle so blacks would know how far towards the front they could sit - so that a white passenger could sit in her seat.  Ms. Parks refused and was arrested for breaking the segregationist “Jim Crow” law about black and white seating on buses.  In support of Ms. Parks and as an organized protest, the black community boycotted the Montgomery Bus Company for 381 days, causing major disruption in the company's finances.  The Supreme Court eventually ruled that the law requiring buses to be segregated was unconstitutional.


     Ms. Parks’ stance on the bus that day is generally thought of as the beginning of the Civil Rights movement that progressed steadily through the South for the next 10+ years.  A group of black leaders in Montgomery formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (“MIA”) to spearhead desegregation efforts in that city.  This sign, created by the MIA,  spells out how black people should behave on the newly integrated buses after the Supreme Court ruling.  Blacks were so used to the “old ways” that they needed help adjusting to their new rights! 




The copy reads:
Within a few days you will be re-boarding integrated buses.  If there is violence in word or deed, it must not be our people who commit it.
SOME SPECIFIC SUGGESTIONS:

1. The bus driver is in charge of the bus and has been instructed to obey the law.  Assume that he will cooperate in helping you occupy any vacant.
2.  Do not deliberately sit by a white person, unless there is no other seat.
3.  In sitting down by a person, white or colored, say “May I” or “Pardon me” as you sit.  This is common courtesy.
4.  If cursed, do not curse back.  If pushed, do not push back.  If struck, do not strike back but clearly show love and goodwill at all times.
5.  If you feel you cannot take it, walk for another week or two.  We have confidence on our people.  GOD BLESS YOU ALL.

     American history is so interesting and the Henry Ford Museum does a great job of presenting so many facets of it.  If you’re ever in Dearborn, Michigan I hope you’ll take a day and check it out.  They have three restaurants on-site so there’s really no excuse not to go!

     Still looking for Christmas gifts?  Don’t forget to check out the Squadron’s e-store for great deals on unique gifts.

      Here’s that link to James Stewart’s wikipedia page.  His career in the entertainment industry is great fun to read about, but it’s his war record that is pretty impressive for aviation buffs.

 
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.

www.redtail.org

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