On Thursday, August 16th, Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming and New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele joined the Southampton African American Museum, Eastville Community Historical Society and the family members of World War II Veterans and Tuskegee Airmen, the late Dr. Roscoe C. Brown, Jr. and Lee A. Hayes, at Guild Hall in East Hampton at a reception prior to a live performance of the play, “Black Angels over Tuskegee”, to honor both men for their unwavering commitment to our county and community, during a time in our history when our nation and its military was segregated.
Dr. Brown and Mr. Hayes were part of the first black military aviators in the United States Army Air Corps (AAC), a precursor of the Unites States Air Force. Black pilots in those days trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. The Tuskegee Airmen are a group in military aviation history that completed more than 15,000 individual sorties in Europe and North Africa during World War II. The group at all times displayed excellence and performed at the highest standard of the military. It was that impressive performance that would later earn them more than 150 Distinguish ed Flying Crosses, and helped encourage the eventual integration of the military
The Tuskegee Airmen escorted bomber planes to their targets during World War II. And of the more than 15,000 missions flown by the group they never lost a bomber to enemy fire. Soon, word of their high rate of delivery got through to white bomber pilots, who then began requesting them to escort their planes into enemy territories, which started the desegregation process of our county’s military.
Legislator Fleming said, “I am honored to be here with Assemblyman Fred Thiele, members of the Southampton African American Museum and the Eastville Community Historical Society to honor the contributions and memories of two of our local heroes. Their courage and commitment, and love of our country and communities, through their work as pilots in the military during a dark time in our nation’s history, pushed boundaries that allowed us as a nation to reshape the way we look at one another as people, and as Americans.”
Assemblyman Thiele said, “It was an honor to recognize these brave men who defied racist stereotypes and proved their mettle in hundreds of combat missions. Their actions helped pave the way for full integration of the United States military, and for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. We will forever remember the monumental role these courageous soldiers and civil rights pioneers played in our American history.”
Brenda Simmons said, “As Executive Director of the Southampton African American Museum (SAAM) we are honored and proud to bring together people of all races, ages, and backgrounds to share inform and educate the public about our extraordinary contributions that is an intricate part of America History. SAAM will continue:
To promote an understanding and appreciation of African American culture by creating programs that will preserve the past, encourage learning and enhance the life of the community. SAAM will research and collect local history, produce media events, create exhibits and community celebrations. SAAM will TREASURE the past, TEND to the present, and TRANSFORM the future.”
Dr. Georgette Grier-Key said, “Today we make a commitment to remember and celebrate local history. These two great men came to call the East End home on different paths but share a unique experience, they were both Tuskegee Airman. We will ensure their legacy will be preserved in our institutions, our schools, libraries, churches and museums. Their collective story is one of resiliency, courage under fire, and excellence. These are all qualities that translate to today and lessons; I think children and some adults alike need to learn.”