by Calvin Ishee
After almost 25 years in the making, a new museum dedicated to Mississippi Aviation landed in Gulfport, Mississippi. On October 6th 2020, Project Manager Francisco Gonzalez of the Mississippi Aviation Heritage Museum, welcomed over 100 family, friends and local dignitaries to the Grand Opening of Mississippi’s first and only museum dedicated to aviation.
Gonzalez was emphatic about highlighting the important role Gulfport native Colonel John C. Robinson had with furthering aviation across the world, but more specifically with the creation of the prestigious Tuskegee Airmen program. Robinson, also known as the “Brown Condor” graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in 1923.
After graduating from college, Robinson’s love of aviation not only led to his becoming a proficient pilot, it led to his becoming a voice and advocate for including black Americans in aviation.
In 1935 Robinson volunteered to help Ethiopia with its fledgling Air Force in response to the aggression of Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini.
Against countless odds and endless challenges, Robinson was able to help create, train and equip a viable air defense program for Ethiopia. In addition to training approximately 70 pilots and doubling Ethiopian aircraft, Robinson personally flew countless missions for the Ethiopian Air Force.
Many today refer to Robinson as the “Father of the Tuskegee Airmen”. Gonzalez told a story about how Robinson approached the senior leaders of the Tuskegee Institute encouraging them to create an aviation training program for African Americans and in 1941, they did just that.
The Tuskegee Airmen were very successful during World War II, training almost 1,000 pilots, flew over 1,300 missions, destroyed 112 enemy aircraft and dismantled 950 railroad cars and other military vehicles.
Another Tuskegee Airmen with a Mississippi connection was Colonel Lawrence E. Roberts, a long time resident of Pass Christian, Mississippi.
Roberts entered the United States Army Air Corps at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi Mississippi in 1943. He was reassigned to the Tuskegee Institute in 1944 where he graduated as a Tuskegee Airmen in class 44K.
Colonel Roberts went on to teach Air Force ROTC at the Tuskegee Institute from 1958-1960, flew countless missions in Vietnam, was awarded 19 service medals and was presented the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush.
Gonzalez stated that the Tuskegee Airmen are an important and prominent part of the museum and are featured via displays and other memorabilia. He further stated that he’s recently discovered three other Mississippians that were members of the prestigious Tuskegee Airmen program and he’s in the process of fully researching them for inclusion in their Tuskegee Airmen displays.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Tuskegee Airmen, Mississippi Aviation, or would like to contribute to the museum, you can contact them via Facebook, visit their website at www.browncondorassociation.com or call them at 601-299-2816.