LJC project team helping plan weeklong Tuskegee Airmen event


The Tuskegee Airmen played a significant role in U.S. history, particularly their actions in 1945 at Seymour’s Freeman Army Airfield that later led to the desegregation of the country’s military.

Despite that, very few local people have a really good grasp or understanding of what took place and the impact they made, said Skylar Earley, a member of the Leadership Jackson County community growth and awareness project team.

“Our role is really to bring awareness to that, to create interest in the community and then also to support the week of the celebration scheduled later this year in October,” Earley said.

The week of Oct. 3 to 8 at Freeman Municipal Airport on Seymour’s southwest side, activities are planned leading up to the commemoration and unveiling of two Tuskegee Airmen statues at the memorial plaza near the airport terminal.

Earley and his fellow team members, Maci Baurle, Steve Cissna, Candace Foist and Sehrish Sangamkar, are helping with the logistics and promotion of the event.

They already have coordinated with Jackson County schools to have at least 1,200 students visit the Rise Above traveling exhibit, a 53-foot semitrailer with hydraulic slideouts and movie screens to play two short films.

“It’s almost going to feel like a cockpit, so the kids are really going to get a really neat experience on this,” Cissna said. “We’re going to have as many kids from Jackson County schools as possible attend this event during the day.”

Class members will assist with the student tours, coordinate volunteer efforts and T-shirts and support Rise Above exhibit workers with lodging and car rental, which are requirements of participation.

“This event will not be possible with the amount of volunteers that are required, so I encourage all of you to reach out to one of us if you’re interested in supporting this week,” Baurle said.

Then in the evenings, others in the community will have an opportunity to check out the immersive experience.

On two nights that week, there will be speakers, including Bryan Patrick Avery, whose grandfather took the photograph of a pivotal moment in the Freeman Field Mutiny in 1945. That series of incidents involved Black members of the 477th Bombardment Group attempting to integrate an all-white officers’ club, resulting in 162 separate arrests, some of them twice.

“Even though in 1940, segregation was publicly banned at airfield bases, here at Freeman Field, it was still very alive and well. Racism was very widespread,” Foist said.

On Oct. 7, Celebration Night will include a concert by the U.S. Air Force Band of Flight from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and food trucks will be onsite.

The project team is securing those food trucks and the Radio 96.3 Cool Bus and also creating and maintaining social media pages and promotional videos and seeking sponsorships for the event.

“It’s going to be a really neat environment that night, a lot of celebration kind of environment ahead of the next day, which is going to be a little more reverent where they actually dedicate two statues,” Cissna said.

At 1 p.m. Oct. 8, two life-sized faux bronze statues will be unveiled at the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Plaza at the airport. One will depict an airman in his flight gear to represent the defense of the nation, and the other will be an airman in an officer’s uniform to represent the discrimination they faced.

Dedication Day also will include a band, a vocalist, speakers, a Seymour Fire Department ladder truck displaying an American flag and a static display of fighter aircraft.

“It will be a really neat experience, really neat day,” Cissna said.

The plaza came about through the work of Tim Molinari of Seymour, who created it as an Eagle Scout project. A dedication ceremony was conducted in 2015, and among the attendees was one of the Tuskegee Airmen who trained at Freeman Field, Leslie Edwards.

Molinari became emotional as he looked into the crowd that day.

“He could tell that they really weren’t done with the story that needed to be told …. saying we need two statues to finish this thing off. Kudos to you guys for creating such a cool thing,” Cissna said to Molinari’s parents, Tim and Bridget Molinari, who assisted the project team and attended their project presentation.

“We’ve been blown away by the amount of efforts and coordination that the Molinaris have put into this,” Earley added, noting they have secured thousands of dollars from the local, state and national levels to make the statues and celebration possible.

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