In celebration of Black History Month, dozens of community and military members and representatives of the ACES Museum in Germantown gathered at the Pearl Theatre at Temple University on Friday to honor the Tuskegee Airmen.
Noting that a sense of acceptance is still something that minority soldiers seek, museum founder Althea Hankins recounted how slurs were leveled against them in the past.
Then, she declared of the first black squadron in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, “You are welcome, you are loved, and you are our aces.”
Alas, no Tuskegee Airmen were there to hear the accolades. This, even though they were expected to attend.
The Philadelphia Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen were scheduled to give a presentation about their experiences during a Q&A session and receive awards in honor of their service from the ACES Museum.
They were also expected at the special screening of “Double Victory,” a documentary by George Lucas which highlights footage from the Alabama-based Tuskegee training center and interviews with the servicemen.
In fact, ACES spokesman Solomon Williams claimed he had verbal confirmation from the Philadelphia chapter two weeks ago.
“They were supposed to come, and called me last minute to cancel,” he said after the event.
Eugene Richardson, president of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, has not responded to requests for comment.
Maggie Thomas, the administrative director of the National Office of Tuskegee Airmen Inc., said that with more than 1,000 pending requests for appearances, it is difficult to keep up, but that individual chapters usually handle bookings. Yet, Thomas said she’s never heard of any airmen not showing up.
“This is the first time that I’m hearing that there was a no-show,” said Thomas, who suspected an error on ACES’s end. “They can’t be anywhere if they aren’t contacted.”
Though Williams said they were contacted, the absence did not matter to Denise Perry, a Northeast Philadelphian who comes from a military family and whose friend’s grandfather was a Tuskegee Airman. For her, the story of the airmen is a fitting reminder during Black History Month.
“Black people’s position in the military was not to make decisions but take orders, now things are different,” she added. “It’s just a reminder that we have to be on watch for tearing down the walls and tearing down the barriers.”