RIVERSIDE. Calif. — On a chilly April afternoon in 1945, three Tuskegee Airmen walked into an all-white Officers’ Club in Seymour, Ind. and began what would become known as the Freeman Field Mutiny. There were 162 black officers arrested over the next 48 hours as they peacefully protested military segregation by entering the Officers’ Club. This protest and its aftermath put forces in motion that ultimately led to the desegregation of the Armed Forces by President Harry S. Truman in 1949, and served as a model and forerunner for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
UCR will celebrate the Tuskegee Airmen’s fight for desegregation and their accomplishments during the Ninth Annual Tuskegee Airmen Celebration on Saturday, Feb. 22, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Orbach Science Library Rotunda. This year’s celebration is themed “The Tuskegee Airmen: Mutiny at Freeman Field.”
At the event, a panel of Tuskegee Airmen and a keynote speaker will recall personal stories of their historic desegregation protest at Freeman Field, their arrests and the aftermath, and the circumstances that led to the protests. The special program will be held at UCR to honor the Tuskegee Airmen and celebrate Black History Month.
Guests will have an opportunity to greet and take photographs with the participating Tuskegee Airmen during a reception after the program.
Tuskegee Airmen in Class 43-C pose for a group portrait in this 1943 photo. The Tuskegee Airmen Archive at UC Riverside
Members of the distinguished panel of Tuskegee Airmen on the program will include Flight Officer Robert McDaniel of Texas, who was among the second wave of officers arrested for refusing to sign the segregation order. He will be joined by Lt. Col Jefferson Anderson of Michigan, one of the few living 33 Tuskegee Airmen captured by the Germans as a prisoner of war during World War II. Lisa Bratton, professor of history at Tuskegee University and former researcher with the Tuskegee Airmen Oral History Project, will be the keynote speaker.
In addition, Malcolm Jamal Warner will join in the celebration to present commendations to the Tuskegee Airmen panelists. Actor, director, musician, and Spoken Word Poet, Warner is widely known for his role in the 1995 HBO movie, “The Tuskegee Airmen” which was the first major motion picture to chronicle the story of the famed Airmen, also starring Laurence Fishburn and Cuba Gooden, Jr.. He is also known for his long term role in the highly popular Cosby Show which portrayed the life of a middle class African American family for the first time on national television.
Ruth M. Jackson, director and co-founder of the Tuskegee Airmen Archive at UCR, estimates that only 11 of the original Tuskegee Airmen officers who were a part of the Freeman Field protest may still be alive.
“Most surviving airmen within the group of 162 arrested are in their early to late 90s,” she said. “This is a golden opportunity for the audience to touch base with living history while we still have them with us and possibly for the final time.”
“The UCR Libraries is honored to be able to be a part of preserving the legacy of arguably the greatest men and women of the Greatest Generation,” said Steven Mandeville-Gamble, university librarian. “The Tuskegee Airmen fought not only for their country but also for the human dignity of all Americans. Their dedication and sacrifices challenged the discrimination of the day and ensured and expanded the civil rights of all people in the United States.”
An armorer loads armor-piercing incendiary and tracer .50 caliber bullets into a P-51 aircraft in Italy, 1944.
The program begins at 1:50 p.m. with a flyover by a fully restored P-51 plane in recognition of the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, through the generosity of film star Tom Cruise. The plane will circle the UCR campus three times, tipping its wings to salute the airmen. The P-51 was the fighter plane most heavily used by the airmen during World War II for European missions.
UCR is the home of the largest archive about the Tuskegee Airmen and Women of the Tuskegee Experience in a public research university in the U.S. Founded in 2005, the archive houses personal papers, selected military papers, diaries, photographs, posters, oral histories, books, media, and memorabilia that document the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen and women in relation to their impact on American, multicultural, military, aviation, and civil rights history; and their many contributions to the fabric of American life.