Freeman Field Mutiny story told in children’s version


The camera hidden in a shoebox gave cover to Master Sgt. Harold J. Beaulieu Sr. when he snapped a forbidden picture of the Tuskegee Airmen hastily being hustled away from Seymour’s Freeman Field because they fought for their rights.

Beaulieu was in charge of the airfield photo lab in April 1945 where the 477th Bombardment Group had been shipped for training. Instead, after taking a stand to integrate the all-white officers club, they were quietly being exiled because they engaged in the Freeman Field Mutiny protesting racism.

While white officers sought court-martials of participants, Beaulieu’s documentation of the scene was smuggled to the Pittsburgh Courier and published and made news around the country.

The photo and subsequent outrage brought unwanted attention to the military’s behavior, preventing punishment to many Black pilots and likely ultimately serving one catalyst for the desegregation of the U.S. military by President Harry S. Truman in 1948.

Over time, the Freeman Field aspect of the story involving the already-renowned Tuskegee Airmen has become part of the group’s lore. And now, Brian Patrick Avery, Beaulieu’s grandson, of Vacaville, California, has written a just-released fictionalized children’s book about the Freeman Field rebellion.

“The Freeman Field Photograph” was illustrated by Jerome T. White. The plot revolves around a little girl named Sidney whose father, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, has been arrested as part of the protest against segregation and she worries she will never see him again.

In the 32-page $17.99 volume, Sidney embarks on a search to find a photograph that includes her father.

Avery also has recently donated related materials from this project to the Freeman Army Airfield Museum, and the 47-year-old author plans to visit Seymour to see where the activity occurred long before he was born.

Key to the Avery donation, which will be included in an existing Tuskegee Airmen exhibit, said curator Larry Bothe, is an enlarged version of the photograph.

“To start with, the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen is a big benefit to the museum,” Bothe said. “The things Mr. Avery sent to me give us a chance to enhance it.”

Those items include a copy of the book, an illustration and a photograph of Avery’s grandfather in uniform.

Avery said he has a trip planned to Indianapolis in September and intends to make time to visit the museum.

“It’s a personal family story,” said Avery, who said his grandfather, who passed away at 78 some years ago, first told him about Freeman Field when Avery was in high school. “He was a humble person. It was something he never really talked about until we were invited to an event honoring him at Travis Air Force Base (in California). I thought, ‘How did we ever go this long without us knowing?'”

Avery, who is a children’s book author as well as an IT specialist, wrote this fresh look at the historical event so kids would not go along without knowing about it.

Mutiny for desegregation


Freeman Army Airfield was activated as a pilot training base following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941.

The U.S. Corps of Engineers planned 413 buildings and four 5,500-foot runways spread over 2,560 acres of land. Between opening for business Dec. 1, 1942, and its deactivation in 1948, 4,245 pilots graduated with advanced multi-engine training. The field was named after Indiana native Capt. Richard S. Freeman, who was killed in a plane crash in Nevada in February 1941.

The vast majority of trainees were white. At the time, although fighting for their country against Japanese and German imperialism and discrimination, American units were segregated and held back in jobs and rank. The Tuskegee Airmen demonstrated Black men could train as elite pilots.

Yet those trainees were not strongly welcomed at military bases. Training began at Selfridge Field in Michigan, where segregation between white and Black officers was enforced.

The Black pilots were shifted to Godman Field in Kentucky next to Fort Knox. Black officers had their own club at Godman, while white officers socialized at the Fort Knox officers club. This was similar to the separate- but-equal doctrine applied in schools later overturned by the Supreme Court.

Training facilities were too small in Kentucky, so on March 1, 1945, the airmen transferred to Freeman Field. Seymour does not come off well in some retelling of the Tuskegee Airmen’s time spent at Freeman and in official reports. One account says local businesses refused to serve Black officers. An interview with one white pilot said he participated in a lynching and would be fine doing so again in Indiana.

Tim Molinari, 64, of Seymour, whose son, also named Tim, designed a memorial that stands at Freeman Field, said he believes even now, many Seymour and Jackson County residents do not know about the mutiny. And he thinks it is important for them to understand the depth of racism there was in Indiana.

“Indiana was a hotbed of the Ku Klux Klan,” the elder Molinari said. “I think (the mutiny history) was a touchy subject for people out here.”

The nexus of the confrontation, the Freeman Field Mutiny, which came to be viewed as a breakthrough for integration over segregation, revolved around the officers club.

Weary of being banned, members of the Tuskegee Airmen initiated a nonviolent integration plan. On April 5, 1945, nine Black officers, led by Lt. Coleman Young, who had previously helped integrate an officers club in Midland, Texas, and later became mayor of Detroit, brushed past a military policeman to enter the Freeman Field club and drink and play pool after being told by the MP they could not go in.

Base commanders placed the Black officers under arrest. Additional groups of nine entered, and many were arrested. Top white officers of the base drafted Base Regulation 85-2, ordering officers to stay segregated by race and then posted the notice around the airfield.

Further pressuring airmen, Maj. Gen. Frank Hunter and Col. Robert Selway demanded each sign the resolution to prove they understood it. All 292 white officers did so. Of 422 Black officers, 101 refused, were arrested and secretly flown back to Godman.

Those were the men gathered on a runway at Freeman whose picture Beaulieu surreptitiously snapped. Three other Black officers were charged for jostling the military policeman and were scheduled for court-martials.

On April 12, a week after the photograph first appeared in print, objections from the NAACP, the National Urban League and Black-oriented newspapers flooded the military, and the 101 men were released from arrest but had reprimands placed in their records.

Three stood trial, and two were acquitted. The third officer, Roger “Bill” Terry, was acquitted of disobeying an order but convicted of the jostling charge and fined $150. He also was given a dishonorable discharge with a reduction in rank.

In 1995, then-President Bill Clinton pardoned Terry, restored his rank to lieutenant and ordered his fine refunded. Others had letters of reprimand removed from their files.

Some historians say this form of protest established a template for peaceful demonstrations during the Civil Rights Movement, including the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott sparked by Rosa Parks.

“We’ve got a nationally significant event right here,” said Tim Molinari, the younger, 24, who is a graduate teaching assistant in the aviation program at Indiana State University and designed the memorial as an Eagle Scout project in 2015.

The original memorial cost $3,000, but an expansion, involving the addition of statues, will cost about $88,000. The older Molinari has been spearheading the fundraising and said the goal is nearly reached.

“There really needs to be more here to match the immensity of what actually took place here back in 1945,” the senior Molinari said.

Book’s purpose is to educate kids

“This is a fictional variation kids could relate to,” Avery said of his book approach to the Freeman Field Mutiny. He wants children to comprehend “here were these guys who did something extraordinary.”

Beaulieu was positioned to take the difference-making photograph because he managed the base lab. Photography was his expertise. He was an aerial photographer who rode in B-25s during bombing missions.

The way Avery heard the story from his grandfather, the 101 Black officers were told to gather outside and not told where they were being taken. Cameras may have told to be put away. Sensitive to the base integration struggle, Beaulieu sensed something important was happening, so he prepared to take a photo for documentation.

“He had a hunch nobody (in authority) wanted pictures of the event,” Avery said. “He used a shutter pump, and he stood on the flight line (by the officers).”

The whole story of the Freeman Field Mutiny represents a worthy lesson for young people to learn, he said, and other historians have emphasized.

Molinari the younger said he thinks Avery gearing the information toward youngsters is a terrific step.

“Anybody that can read,” he said of broadening the scope of information sharing. “Kids will be able to understand what happened.”

He was excited by the physical donations, too.

“It’s definitely something that will only enhance the exhibit,” he said.

The Tuskegee Airmen saw a wrong, worked to right it, were going to be punished and despite the bigoted forces arrayed against them prevailed with their message against segregation.

“This was something where people took a stand,” said Avery, who said because it was wartime, the ultimate punishment for refusing an order could have brought the death penalty. “They did so, and the consequences didn’t matter. They understood and said, ‘This isn’t right.’”

Avery said he has always been strongly interested in history and stresses it at home with his family. The book was several years in the making, from inception to writing to illustrating to publishing to April release. The timing of publication dovetails with the Black Lives Matter movement and shares the same message: “You should stand up,” he said.

Bothe said the museum is expanding its reach, now distributing about 40 brochures to target tourists and upgrading exhibits through such gifts as Avery’s, and an expected donation from Freeman’s family will attract more people to learn the field’s history.

Although more than 75 years have passed, the mutiny seems as relevant as ever, Avery said. The Tuskegee Airmen took a stand in Seymour, and the world learned about it through a photograph, much as the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota through shared video.

“You have to wonder if this photograph had not gotten out, would people have written tens of thousands of letters to the War Department,” Avery said. “A photograph is a memory that never fades away. We can never unsee it.”

Seeing it in a museum or as part of a children’s book helps keep history alive.

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