ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Maryland Sen. Obie Patterson enjoys a good history lesson, but his excitement level increases when the topic focuses on the Tuskegee Airmen.
Over the past several years, the lawmaker from Fort Washington has pushed for the state to mark the fourth Thursday in March as “Tuskegee Airmen Commemoration Day.”
During the last two years amidst the coronavirus pandemic, it has been tougher for some bills which appear as “slam dunks” to receive approval, or even make it out of 0f a committee.
“It’s got to get done this year,” Patterson said with a smile Thursday.
He joined several members of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc. at a public hearing before the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee in Annapolis.
Several members donned red jackets, a symbol that highlights the airmen’s nickname of “Red Tails.” The airmen painted the tails of their planes red to help identify them.
Jerry “Hawk” Burton, president of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc. and Air Force veteran, said Maryland symbolizes the home of several of the original airmen such as Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. and Charles Herbert Flowers. Two high schools in Prince George’s County are named after them.
One of the most famous airmen, Brig. Gen. Charles E. McGee, died in January at 102 years old. Two years ago, the Bethesda resident held a book-signing at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia.
“Over the last two years, [McGee] was our rock star. He was everywhere,” Burton said. “He made it easy for us to talk about Tuskegee Airmen.”
So far, lawmakers in eight states and the District of Columbia passed laws to officially commemorate the Tuskegee Airmen.
The airmen comprised of nearly 1,000 Black pilots who flew during World War II. They endured racism at home and trained at a segregated airfield in Tuskegee, Alabama. Burton summarized how the Tuskegee program included not only pilots, but more than 15,000 cooks, security personnel and other support staff who “did all the things it took to man a military base.”
In 1948, President Harry Truman signed an executive order eliminating racial segregation in the armed forces.
Besides civil rights leaders pushing Truman to support the move or Blacks would resist the draft, the Tuskegee Airmen are credited with integrating the military because of their resolve in the war that included the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941 (Note: McGee was born on that day in 1919).
The House of Delegates’ Health and Government Operations Committee will hold a public hearing on the legislation Tuesday.
“People need to know what the Tuskegee Airmen have done for the United States of America because it was a lot,” said Del. Diana Fennell (D-District 47A) of Colmar Manor, lead sponsor of the Tuskegee legislation in the House. “I’m going to make sure that I scream it loud and clear and pray that the bill will pass.”