Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Fighting for Democracy: Bill Terry and the Tuskegee Airmen

Throughout the South and the nation, Jim Crow laws were enacted to force segregation in public places. From public restrooms and lunch counters, to schools and jobs, the law limited interaction—and sometimes merely proximity—between blacks and whites. Many African Americans fled their homes in order to avoid persecution, and many of them ended up in the northeast and west.  The “Great Migration,” as it has come to be known, resulted in a shift of the South’s demographics.   

How do you think black Americans "voting with their feet" affected the South or their own prospects?

The exhibit Fighting for Democracy highlights Compton, California, athlete Bill Terry (pictured left).   Born in 1921, Terry lived in a city that had been directly affected by the Great Migration; his hometown of Los Angeles experienced over a tenfold increase of black residents between 1900 and 1930. Even with the influx of black citizens to northern and western cities, many still confronted racial discrimination in housing, economic opportunities and in social settings.

 When Terry applied to join the U.S. Army Air Corps at the outbreak of World War II, the press was invited to his induction; however, after discovering that he was African American, the colonel in charge told him to wait for an assignment while his friends began training. Later he was told that he was “too big” to be a pilot.  Terry went on to serve with the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American pilots who were integral to, but not integrated into, the US Air Force in World War II.  Although the Tuskegee Airmen would gain renown as being adept pilots, they struggled within a highly racialized-military.

Tuskegee Airmen pose for a photograph. 
Despite their equal skill sets, Terry and his colleagues  were subjected to discrimination both career-wise and in social settings in the military such as not being allowed to go into the same officer's clubs as their white counterparts.  

How do you think Bill (and others who were excluded from service because of their race/gender/ethnicity) felt about being discriminated against?

How would you feel?

To learn how Bill's story ends, come view the exhibit Fighting for Democracy at Levine Museum of the New South from January 19th through July 14th, 2013.
Join us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/LevineMuseum
or Twitter: @LevineMuseum 

No comments:

Post a Comment