GASTONIA, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – Looking for something uplifting this weekend?
Nicknamed the “Red Tails” for the painted tails of their fighter planes, the Tuskegee airmen take center stage through Sunday in the ‘rise above’ traveling exhibit in Gastonia. It’s a mobile museum brought to you by the commemorative air force.
“It’s an exhibit to focus and spotlight the Tuskegee airman, especially one that lived right here in Gastonia,” said Dot Guthrie, the founder of Gastonia’s African American Museum.
Guthrie is delighted to sing the praises of the Tuskegee airmen, the volunteer African American military pilots who fought in World War II.
Known as the first black flying unit in the U.S. military, most Red Tails are deceased, but their legacy lives on.
“I think it’s important for our children to know, as they read history books, that there are African Americans that left an impact on history,” Guthrie said.
Gastonia’s Tuskegee airman, the late first Lt. Marshall Skylar Cabiness Sr., was the first black licensed pilot in Gastonia. He will be honored in a parade on Saturday.
His family carries his legacy; his grandson even his name.
Marshall Cabiness III says his grandfather would express gratitude for the recognition, but this is just one of many stories. He is proud of what the Red Tails represent.
Proud African Americans have come so far, showing what all people are capable of, regardless of color, shining a beacon of light, and inspiring others.
From 1941 thru 1946, 1,000 black pilots, like Cabiness, were trained at Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute, an all-black Army air corp. They had great success in aerial combat, escorting bombers during WWII, and one of the lowest loss records of all the escort flighter groups — making them in constant demand.
A record unmatched by any other fighter group.
They served with distinction in every theater of WWII while, at the same time, struggling for their civil rights.
Records show black airmen flew double the number of combat missions as white pilots, were treated poorly, and experienced racism despite being inducted into the pilot program that was previously off-limits to blacks.
“Yes, they encountered racism, but they had dreams,” Guthrie said. “They knew how to bypass the horrible side of racism to generate the excitement in pursuit of their dreams, and the one thing I liked is that they believed in each other.”
The rise above exhibit is popular with school groups and folks of all ages and colors, which share a joint takeaway.
A Woodhill Elementary student says the exhibit has inspired him to try harder than ever to achieve his dreams.
“I want our children to know that if they pursue, persevere, and dream,” stressed Guthrie. “They just need to never give up and believe in themselves just as the Tuskegee airman did.”
Seven years after pilot training began, President Harry Truman changed the Army’s policy by signing an executive order ending segregation in the U.S. military. This is widely credited to the Tuskegee airman’s struggles and victories. The airmen received over a hundred awards and were collectively awarded a congressional gold medal.
First Lt. Marshall Skylar Cabiness Sr. will be honored in a special parade on Saturday. His story is included in the mobile museum.
His grandson says the recognition of the Red Tails is essential because when people see the images in the exhibit, they see the airmen had a lot of guts and courage. They were patriots doing their service.
You can visit the traveling museum now through Sunday.
It’s set up at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Gastonia. The parade honoring Cabiness takes place on Saturday.