COURTNEY VEAUNT/For the County News
Tuskegee Airman Charlie Price spoke to a group at the Geneseo Air Show’s educational program about African-American World War II heritage.
Geneseo Air Show
Tuskegee Airmen showcased at Air Show
With reporting by Matt Leader
The 1941 Historical Aircraft Group held their annual Tuskegee Airmen educational program prior to this year’s airshow.
Each year, students from the Rochester area visit the 1941 Historic Air Group museum to learn about the history of the Tuskegee Airmen, the importance of staying in school, and following your dreams.
This year, Dr. David Anderson told the story of two individuals who overcame adversity and racism to become pilots.
After escaping from the Klu Klux Klan, the young man travelled to France where he learned how to fly. While there, he fought for the French in World War I. Upon returning to the United States, he offered his services to the newly formed United States Army Air Corps.
Similarly, the young woman followed her dreams and learned how to fly – becoming a stunt pilot.
During Dr. Anderson’s presentation, he emphasized the importance of self-determination and responsibility. Both individuals in his story overcame adversity to achieve their goals.
“You’ve got to have hope, but you have to have self-determination,” said Dr. Anderson.
While Dr. Anderson’s presentation focused on two black pilots prior to World War II, Charlie Price spoke specifically about the Tuskegee Airmen.
Price is one of three Rochester area men who trained in the Tuskegee program. The other two individuals were Leland Pennington and Johnny Porter. Leland Pennington’s plane, Lucy Gal, is the subject of another project within the 1941 Historical Aircraft Group.
Price, 89, is also Rochester’s first black police officer.
After graduating in 1942, Price joined the Army Air Corps. Upon arriving in Fort Niagara, the black men were separated from the white men. Price called this separation “the first slap in the face”, because he went to school and got along with many of the white men.
“The army was my first experience with segregation,” remembered Price. “We had heard about lynchings in the south, and when we got sent to Mississippi for basic, we were a little on edge.”
The program was notoriously difficult to complete, and instructors were oftentimes instructed to find any way possible to flunk recruits.
“The feeling that a man of color could not manage an aircraft was rampant,” said Price. “It was said that he did not possess the mentality or temperament.”
This attitude changed during the war, with white bomber crews specifically requesting the Tuskegee Airmen as escorts, and culminated in President Truman’s official desegregation of the military in 1948.
“I’ve had bad experiences in the army, but I’ve also have good experiences,” Price told The County News. “I still hang out with the fellas. We tell war stories and lie through our teeth.”
Price described how the Tuskegee program was designed to discourage the men. Despite being trained in the program, Price could not fly due to one eye being stronger than the other. As a result, his primary responsibility was intelligence. He prepared the route to fly.
Price reminded the students in attendance to stay in school — noting a high demand for people in the aeronautic field.
Before heading back to Rochester, students had the opportunity to view the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) P-51 Mustang – in a paint scheme that represents “a variety of the Airmen’s World War II squadrons.”
The P-51C was a single seat, long-range escort fighter. It had a maximum speed of 505 miles per hour and weighed over 12,000 pounds (fully loaded).
Lastly, students were taken inside the CAF’s “Rise Above” traveling exhibit – making its first appearance at the 2012 Geneseo Airshow.
The exhibit is a fully functional, climate-controlled movie theatre. Here, students watched a movie about the Tuskegee Airmen and the CAF’s restoration of the P-51 on a 160-degree panoramic screen.
The exhibit tours for over 42 weeks out of the year, and makes stops nationwide at schools and airshows.
Half tractor trailer and half movie theater, the exhibit is the sole venue in which to watch a film, which chronicles the creation and rise to prominence of the Tuskegee Airmen.
“It shows what the airmen had to go through,” said Terry Hollis, a resident of Columbus Miss., and manager of the exhibit. “It shows how teamwork and sticking together can help you achieve your goals.”
The film also seeks to inspire youth into pursuing and achieving their dreams. “Kids today have everything, and they are still failing,” said Hollis.
“Hopefully, they’ll walk away from this film with the realization that they are the only ones who can make their goals and dreams a reality.”
The exhibit relies on private donations in order to meet its operating costs. Those looking to make a donation or simply for more information about the program can visit this website.
For more information on the 1941 Historical Aircraft Group and their Tuskegee Airmen educational program, please visit the group’s website.