When nearly 200 people gathered on campus last February for a special event to honor the grit and heroism of the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II, they got an unexpected surprise.
During the event, University Librarian Ruth M. Jackson announced the UCR Libraries’ initiative to establish the Tuskegee Airmen Western Region Archive. The UCR Libraries and the Smith Family/Concerned Citizens Cultural Foundation for Minority Affairs, Education and Black History Research (SCMEB) will co-sponsor the initiative. Col. Ralph Smith, USAF (Ret.), is CEO of the SCMEB Foundation and vicepresident of the Western Region Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.
The purpose of the airmen archive is to collect and preserve as part of a national effort the history of the Tuskegee Airmen, who broke the race barrier in military aviation for African Americans. They advanced race relations through their integration of the World War II-era U.S. Army Air Forces and compiled a combat record unsurpassed in military history.
The airmen, trained as fighter pilots, flew combat missions as bomber escorts in the European theater and never lost a bomber to enemy aircraft. Altogether 992 pilots graduated from the Tuskegee, Ala. airfield courses. They flew 1,578 missions and 15,533 sorties, destroyed 261 enemy aircraft and won more than 850 medals.
While documents supporting the study of the military history of the Airmen will be a large component of the archive, Jackson said she is also eager to include documents chronicling the post-war contributions of these pioneers. The archive will place special emphasis on the success of the airmen and airwomen in many fields, including business and economic development, education, medicine, politics and race relations.
The archive has already received donations from the families of two prominent Tuskegee airmen.
The family of General Celes King III donated a unique photograph of King as a young pilot with the singer Lena Horne, during one of her USO tours. King went on to become a prominent leader in the Civil Rights movement, notably as founder of the Congress of Racial Equality of California.
The family of the late Captain William R.Melton donated his papers and memorabilia to the archive. Melton remained active with the Tuskegee Airmen throughout his life, returning to Tuskegee to serve as a flying instructor, and later as public relations officer and historian.
The archive, which will be housed in the UCR Libraries Special Collections, will be open to researchers, educators, students and anyone interested in the history of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Jackson said her goal is that the Tuskegee Airmen Western Region Archive serve as the cornerstone of an even larger archive of African American History and Culture in the Western States, one that will add depth and detail to the inspiring story of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Among the guests were 34 airmen and airwomen who traveled from all over the country to attend the event, including Tuskegee Airmen Executive Director Robert Higginbotham and other executive officers from the national organization. Trey Ellis, the Emmy Awardnominated screenwriter of the
HBO special “The Tuskegee Airmen,” was the guest speaker. To make a contribution to the archive, or for information on ways to support its growth, call (951) 827-3221.