‘The Tuskegee Airmen’ art exhibit honors Black WWII pilots

“The Tuskegee Airmen” exhibit at Utah Tech University’s Black History Month art showcase in the North Commons building. Unique pieces created by talented artists shed light on the contributions of the first African American military pilots during World War II. Abigail Byington | Sun News

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Black History Month is a time to celebrate the achievements of African Americans, and the story of Black History Month started in 1915 when slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment.

The art exhibit at the North Commons Building this month is titled “The Tuskegee Airmen.”

The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of airmen during World War II with the U.S. Army Air Corps. They were the first African American military pilots.

Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-trained historian, and Jesse E. Moorland, a minister, founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and Histor, later renamed the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.

In 1926, this organization sponsored a national Negro History Week. They chose the second week of February because it coincides with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

“The Tuskegee Airmen” art exhibit is being loaned to Utah Tech University from the Left of Center Art Gallery in North Las Vegas. The university’s art department has been working with the gallery for 25 years to bring exhibits to the school for Black History Month.

Members of the gallery put this exhibit together in honor of the men and women who fought to protect our country during World War II.

The exhibit features various works of art including paintings made of watercolor. It gives the audience a visual, historical and educational look at the Tuskegee Airmen.

Professor of Art, Dennis Martinez said a lot of people are probably unaware of the Tuskegee Airmen.

He said, “The art exhibit is an educational and historical element for people.”

In 1941, the U.S. War Department formed the Black 99th Pursuit Squadron, the Tuskegee Airmen, to be trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama.

During this time, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Black Press and others were pressing for the government to let African Americans become military pilots.

They did not want a separate African American unit, but under the instruction of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a separate unit was made.

The airmen escorted bombers on long-range raids deep into Nazi-controlled territory. The tails of the airmen’s planes were painted red to identify who they were. This gave them the nickname “Red Tails.” 

Martinez said he is not sure that the Tuskegee Airmen were given the credit they deserved during the war and after.

Maddax Skaggs, a junior continuing education major from St. George, said, “The art exhibit makes artists more known, like the underrepresented ones.”

Andrew Kosorok, visiting assistant professor of art history, said the exhibit can broaden people’s perspectives on the topic, and that it is exciting that the awareness is coming to a broader audience.

Kosorok said the Tuskegee Airmen had a willingness to protect people they didn’t know. He said these people made it possible for us to be here.

Following their service, many Tuskegee Airmen have been awarded medals. On March 29, 2007, the Tuskegee Airmen were awarded a Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.

The next Black History Month event that people can look forward to is the Poetry Slam Feb. 15 at 6 p.m. in the Gardner Ballroom.