At a time when African Americans in the U.S. were still subject to overt racial discrimination, the Tuskegee Airmen became the first military aviators of color to join the United States Armed Forces.
Now Philadelphia-area survivors from the group have donated a trove of photographs, correspondence and other documents to the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple that will remind generations of the veterans’ noble service and sacrifice.
“We are very proud to be the recipients of the Philadelphia Chapter archives,” said Diane Turner, curator of the Blockson Collection. “When America needed its men and women to go to war, these courageous men enlisted and fought against great odds. Not only did they fight in combat, they fought against racism and discrimination at home.”
Several members of the Tuskegee Airmen Philadelphia Chapter visited Main Campus recently to share personal stories about their experiences during World War II. Founded in 1972, the chapter includes members who fought during WWII and the civilian and military personnel who supported their push to integrate the United States Air Force.
With many members deceased, finding the time and space to store important documents became a task that was too big for surviving members to handle, said Eugene Richardson, 2nd Lieutenant and Philadelphia Chapter chairman.
“We’re all getting older. Officers come and go, things get lost and misplaced," Richardson said. "We thought it would be a great idea for the Blockson to have these resources and help preserve the history of the Tuskegee Airmen, Philadelphia Chapter.”
The donation represents more than 20 years of history, including the organization's original charter.
Richardson, who earned his business degree from Temple in 1953, became interested in flight as a young boy after his father and a friend took him along to see the Colored Air Circus, a group of African-American aviators performing an air show in Mansfield, Ohio.
Driven by pure interest to fly, he decided to join the Army Air Corps in order to become a pilot. When he turned 17, he signed up to take a pilot qualification test.
“My father was actually against my decision to train as a pilot,” said Richardson. “But he eventually gave his permission and signed the parental permission papers needed.”
Richardson passed the test, and a few months later at the age of 18 was sent to Keesler Field in Mississippi for three months of basic training. It was 1943, the height of segregation in the south.
“The Tuskegee Airmen inspired revolutionary reform in Armed Services,” said Richardson. “It’s important the researchers and students have access to our stories. We’re grateful that an institution like Blockson exists. We know that the archives will be put to good use here.”