American Patriots: The Tuskegee Airmen and the Harlem Hellfighters

The Society of Illustrators has a long history of supporting our servicemen and servicewomen. This history dates back to WWI when then president Charles Dana Gibson was called upon to assemble a group of artists who would create posters to generate support for the war. He enlisted Flagg, Wyeth, Joseph Pennell and others—artists who would produce some of the war’s most lasting imagery. The contribution of Society members progressed during World War II. While many of our members fought for our country, those that remained in the States participated in massive poster campaigns, and participated in a program whereby illustrators visited veterans’ hospitals to sketch the wounded- a program that continues today. Following the war, the Society’s Welfare Fund was established in 1946 to aid artists in need. In 1954, as part of the U.S. Air Force Art Program, illustrators were given the opportunity to travel around the world to military facilities and exercises to record these events and donate their works to a “grateful nation.” Thousands of paintings have been contributed to the program, which also continues today.

Beginning shortly after the creation of the Museum of Illustration, the Society created a biennial exhibit of work featuring a visual record of our servicemen and servicewomen. In this current exhibit, we pay our respects to the African American soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice to our country in spite of adversity and the hardships they faced in their daily lives. 

An Opening Reception will take place on June 27th.

THE HARLEM HELLFIGHTERS

This June marks the 105th anniversary of the 15th Infantry Regiment, the forbearers of today’s 369th Sustainment Brigade. This storied unit, that was given the famous nickname “The Harlem Hellfighters,” by their German adversaries, has earned a distinguished place in history as a result of the tenacity they displayed both on and off the battlefield. “As the first and only all-black New York National Guard unit, the story of the 369th Infantry in World War I, is a heroic tale of the struggle of African Americans to prove their worth as soldiers on the battlefield as well as assert their rights as citizens at home,” said Courtney Burns, the Director of Military History, New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs. On June 2nd, 1913 the 15th Infantry Regiment, was constituted as a part of the New York National Guard. The men that formed the initial ranks of the unit faced a society at the time that was highly fragmented along racial lines, enduring prejudice and unjust treatment in the segregated Army of the time. They were forced to fight under the command of the French Army, as many white American soldiers refused to fight alongside the black soldiers. The unit’s fortitude would soon be put to the ultimate test on the ground in war-torn France, where the Hellfighters did not merely survive, but thrived on the battlefield. Their resilience resulted directly in a proud heritage as those men from Harlem never lost a man through capture, lost a trench, or a foot of ground to the enemy. “With 191 days in continuous combat, the first American unit to cross the Rhine, the 369th was one of the most successful units in the US Army, black or white. The unit was credited with campaign participation in Champagne-Marne, Meuse-Argonne, Champagne 1918, Alsace 1918, and Lorraine 1918, earning a regimental French Croix de Guerre with Silver Star and Streamer, and 171 individual Croix de Guerre medals. Their deeds earned them widespread respect and acknowledgment and helped to lay the groundwork for the 20th century civil rights movement.” said Burns. — Maj. Bryon Linnehan

The Tuskegee Airmen

In spite of adversity and limited opportunities, African Americans have played a significant role in U.S. military history over the past 300 years. They were denied military leadership roles and skilled training because many believed they lacked qualifications for combat duty. Before 1940, African Americans were barred from flying for the U.S. military. Civil rights organizations and the black press exerted pressure that resulted in the formation of an all African-American pursuit squadron based in Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1941. They became known as the Tuskegee Airmen. “Tuskegee Airmen” refers to all who were involved in the so-called “Tuskegee Experience,” the Army Air Corps program to train African-Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft. The Tuskegee Airmen included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors, and all the personnel who kept the planes and pilots in the air. The military selected Tuskegee Institute to train pilots because of its commitment to aeronautical training. Tuskegee had the facilities, and engineering and technical instructors, as well as a climate for year round flying. The first Civilian Pilot Training Program students completed their instruction in May 1940. The Tuskegee program was then expanded and became the center for African-American aviation during World War II. The Tuskegee Airmen overcame segregation and prejudice to become one of the most highly respected fighter groups of World War II. They proved conclusively that African Americans could fly and maintain sophisticated combat aircraft. The Tuskegee Airmen’s achievements, together with the men and women who supported them, paved the way for full integration of the U.S. military.

 

Image credit:

Roy LaGrone
From Tuskegee to the Pentagon, Maj Gen Daniel- Chappie- James, Jr.
Description: "This Painting is of my old classmate "Chappie" James, who is now a major general. The Piper Club is symbolic of the good old day before World War II when we learned to fly out of the cow pastures and cornfields." - Roy LaGrone. 

Chris Hopkins
Red Tail Wing Rider
Description: A Flight-line mechanic for the 332nd FG sits on the wing of a P-51 Mustang offering guidance to the pilot as he taxis his aircraft into position. Ramitelli, Italy.

Gary Kelley
From the book Harlem Hellighters, by J. Patrick Lewis. Creative Company, 2014.

 

Exhibit Info

Dates

June 12, 2018 to September 01, 2018

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