Two exhibits highlighting the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, who battled against America's enemies during World War II and against discrimination at home, were the focus of an open house Sunday at the Kansas African American Museum.
The exhibition, on display through Aug. 20, includes "The Tuskegee Airmen: The Segregated Skies of World War II" and "Ron Spriggs Exhibit of Tuskegee Airmen." It opened last week.
"The reason we believe this is so important for Wichita is that we are the Air Capital of the World, and bringing these Tuskegee exhibits here helps us to share our mission," said Prisca Barnes, the museum's director.
"We tell the African American experience in Kansas — we do that through educating and inspiring. This is not a Kansas story, but it does speak to us through our local heritage of aviation."
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The Tuskegee Airmen, named for the Alabama town where they trained, were an all-black unit of World War II pilots, navigators, bombardiers, mechanics and others. The men trained and fought in segregated units.
Between 1941 and 1946, more than 1,000 pilots participated in the U.S. Army Air Forces. About 450 served in combat.
The Tuskegee Airmen who saw some heavy fighting are generally considered pioneers of the civil rights movement because their success led to the integration of the armed services.
"Even though people believed they couldn't be pilots, they persevered," Barnes said.
Among the men honored in the open house were Wichitans George Boyd and Donald Jackson. Both went through the pilot training program.
The Honor Guard of McConnell Air Force Base was also part of Sunday's open house, as was Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer.
But the focus of the open house remained on the Tuskegee Airmen.
"There were so many roadblocks thrown in front of these men," Barnes said.
Barnes said she hopes the exhibits will inspire Wichitans.
"We think it shows the generations to come they can achieve anything. Literally, the sky is the limit," Barnes said.
"We want these exhibits to inspire greatness. These men prove it. They defied the odds."
The Kansas African American Museum, at 601 N. Water, is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m.