July 10, 2022
Gloria Page couldn’t hold back tears Thursday when she saw the body of Tuskegee Airman Alexander Jefferson. She said her service in World War II was part of our “heritage and heritage”.
“I heard about the Tuskegee Airmen and I personally heard about his experience,” said the 74-year-old Howard University and Detroit resident. Advance. “I studied my black history and learned everything I could when I was in school. What they did and what they went through was amazing to me.”
Page was among the first people to pay tribute to Jefferson, a member of the famous Tuskegee Airmen who helped America defeat Nazi Germany during World War II. Jefferson died at the age of 100 on June 22, and a public viewing was held at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.
In 1942, Jefferson was sworn into the US Army Reserves. He reported in April 1943 at Tuskegee Army Airfield and began flight training at a time when the United States armed forces were racially segregated. He was a member of an elite all-black unit that included former Michigan State Senator and Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young.
Carlota Almanza-Lumpkin is a member of the Detroit Tuskegee Airmen organization. She participated in the viewing service and was inspired by Jefferson’s service.
“He was dedicated to the end. He was a real hero and a real gentleman,” Almanza-Lumpkin said.
Jefferson was born in Detroit in 1921 during the Great Migration, a period in American history when tens of thousands of black people from southern states moved north in hopes of better economic opportunities. He attended Chadsey High School and Clark College in Atlanta, a historically black college.
During his service in the United States Army, Jefferson flew 18 bomber escort missions during his military service. In 1944, he was shot by German Nazi troops in the south of France and made a prisoner of war. Jefferson endured nine months as a POW before being released and returning home in 1945.
In 1972, he started the first chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, an organization dedicated to introducing young people to the world of aviation. In 2007, he and other surviving Tuskegee Airmen and their families were collectively awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. Jefferson spent his civilian life teaching in Detroit and preserving the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.
On the floor of the US Senate in 2008, Carl Levin, then Michigan’s senior senator, paid a powerful tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen and listed the 155 members who hailed from Michigan and served in the unit.
“Tuskegee Airmen received three Presidential Unit Citations, 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses and Legions of Merit, as well as the Red Star of Yugoslavia, nine Purple Hearts, 14 Bronze Stars, and more than 700 medals and sprues from the It goes without saying that the Tuskegee Airmen deserve the Congressional Gold Medal,” Levin said.
In a November 2021 ceremony at Detroit’s Rouge Park, city government officials rededicated Jefferson Airfield in the park in his honor.
Penny Bailer’s late husband, Kermit, was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen unit. She too participated in the viewing service.
“It was dedicated to the end,” Bailer said.
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