by Calvin Ishee, Associate Publisher

Thanks to the Mississippi Aviation Heritage Museum as well as a grant from the Mississippi Humanities Council, close to 100 students from the Pass Christian Middle School were treated to an experience of a lifetime, a visit to the African American in Aviation Traveling Museum (AAATM).

In celebration of Black History Month, the students were treated to riveting stories, pictures and displays that outlined the positive impact that African Americans have had on America’s aviation and space programs.

AAATM curator Chauncey E. Spencer kept the students mesmerized with stories ranging from the Tuskegee Airman to African American astronauts. Spencer discussed the racial challenges that African Americans had to overcome before segregation ended and integration began.

Spencer’s passion was overflowing because of his love for aviation as well as the fact that his father, Chauncey Spencer was a Tuskegee Airman.  He was excited to have the opportunity to pursue his goal of educating people about the role that African Americans have made to aviation.

He instilled the fact that all people, including people of color can make a huge difference in making America the very best it can be. Students and teachers alike were overjoyed by Spencer’s presentation as well as the overall exhibit.

Pass Christian School Teacher Charlene Stephens commented, “THANK YOU for facilitating this for our students. The students came back to class excited and inspired by Mr. Spencer’s presentation and exhibit.  As a teacher I am so appreciative of your efforts and time to make this happen.”

A relative of one of the students that experienced the exhibit added, “Yesterday he had a little pep to his step.  He said it “was his best day ever. I found out that Black people have done a lot of things that I didn’t know about. I learned more today than we have ever been told about Black people”.

In an interview with Fransisco Gonzalez, Executive Director of the Mississippi Aviation Heritage Museum, Gonzalez offered insight as to the importance of the positive contributions made by African Americans to aviation:

The Gazebo Gazette: What made you bring the portable African American Aviation Museum to South Mississippi?

FG:  “I had seen a video of the traveling exhibit at the Oshkosh Airshow.  I called and asked what would it take to have them come to celebrate Black History Month. Then with my staff assistant Michael Bonner, we wrote a Mississippi Humanity’s Council grant which we got.”

GG: What do you want the public to learn from this experience?

FG: I want visitors to learn about the forgotten Black Pilots and the trajectory and progress they made in making the country more united from Jack Bullard to NASA astronauts and the obstacles they overcame.“

GG: How important is it to have the Tuskegee Airmen included in the Mississippi Aviation Heritage Museum?

FG: “If we do not learn about our history then we are doomed to repeat it.  As cliche‘ as that may be, it is the reason for all of our exhibits.   All exhibits at the museum has importance based on the perspective of the viewer(visitor). My job is to tell the stories as best they have been recorded through the annals of time.  The Tuskegee exhibit at the Mississippi Aviation Heritage Museum is there to educate the visitor about some great men during a horrible war. The war against segregation!“

Mississippi Aviation Heritage Museum Board member and Pass Christian resident Halle Ricketts added, “Waking up today I was very tired from the last five days of trying to make the free opportunity (African Americans in Aviation Traveling Museum Exhibit) a meaningful experience for Pass Christian School District students  and teachers. My first impressions are that they were thrilled to have the experiences that were different than what they were used to. Hopefully  this event will galvanize others to support the true frontline workers and students MENTAL WELLNESS during this COVID-19 PANDEMIC.“

Those interested in checking out this highly educational and informative exhibition can visit the Mississippi Aviation Heritage Museum in Gulfport on either February 5th or 6th from 10 am to 4 pm.  For further information visit www.msaviationmuseum.org or call them at 601-299-2816.