Tuskegee airman visits East Oakland school

February 16, 2012 9:51:20 PM PST
One of the original Tuskegee airmen came to visit a school in East Oakland Friday. He was one of those courageous African American pilots who fought in World War II. Students learned about a victory for civil rights that went largely unrecognized for decades.

They're the stars of the movie "Red Tails" -- the black pilots who fought for the right to fight for their country. In a crowded high school auditorium, students watched clips from the movie before meeting one of the men who inspired it.

"I went into the service because I thought everyone that could should," Tuskegee airman Clyde Grimes said.

Grimes was 18 when he signed up to serve in a military where only white men were allowed to fly planes into combat. But the Tuskegee airmen changed that by being the best at what they did -- escorting bombers into enemy territory.

"I've actually heard a bomber pilot from World War II say that when they saw the Red Tails, they knew they were protected," Tuskegee Airmen Chapter President David Cunningham said.

The special visit was in honor of Black History Month, but it was also a supplement to a history curriculum that some teachers say doesn't emphasize this important struggle enough.

"We have to cover so much material in order to get ready for the state testing, if they have time for it they get to it, if they don't it's like, oh well," Black Student Union sponsor Vallie Towns said.

That's why Cunningham, whose father flew one of those planes, is excited to see the airmen's story finally being told on the big screen.

"It's part of history, American history, not just black history, and it needs to be told everywhere because this has been kept out of the history books, and it needs to be told mouth to mouth or else it won't get told," Cunningham said.

Indeed, the story flew under the radar for so long, it took 70 years before Congress recognized the airmen for their bravery.

Grimes is now 90 years old and to him, the shiny new medal represents something he's been saying all along.

"if we try to understand each other, if we want something to be successful, we have to work as a team," Grimes said.


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