Trained to pilot single-engine and multi-engine planes during World War II, the men became the nation's first black military airmen. Nearly 1,000 pilots graduated from Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Ala., from 1941 to 1946, granting them commissions and Army Air Force pilot wings. The Tuskegee Airmen were awarded 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, with 450 pilots -- referred to as Red Tails -- entering combat.
"[The exhibit] typically travels to schools and civic centers and museums to look at the story of the Tuskegee Airmen and the significance they had, not only on World War II but going forward from there," said Trey Gaines, director of the Bartow History Museum, 4 E. Church St. "I've known for several years about the exhibit and I've always wanted to bring it here to highlight the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, not only because of their significance and the role they played but also because we have a local tie to the Tuskegee Airmen. John Henry Morgan, who grew up here, went to school at Summer Hill and went into the Tuskegee Airman program and became a pilot with the group.
"And he still has family here. [For] our Evening Lecture in February, Feb. 23, the Morgan brothers will be here to discuss the life of their uncle, the story of their uncle John. It's [going to be] a great program. When they did it before, they had a lot of fun with it," he said, referring to a presentation from Bibby, John and Victor Morgan in 2009. "They told stories. They showed a lot of photographs and letters that belonged to him, a lot of which are going to be part of [this] exhibit. But you could just see the respect and honor they had for their uncle and for this group. They had a lot of fun with it and we learned a lot about him and about the Tuskegee Airmen."
Earning the rank of first lieutenant, John Henry Morgan served with the 99th Fighter Squadron and completed missions in Italy, France and central Europe. He was killed in a landing accident Jan. 2, 1944, in Italy. To highlight his accomplishments, the BHM will include items like photographs and letters of Morgan's in the traveling exhibit on loan from the Museum of History and Holocaust Education at Kennesaw State University.
"We didn't know him because he passed away before all three of us, my brothers, were born. But we've known about him all of our lives and we are very proud of him," said Victor Morgan, adding that in their presentation they will emphasize "that he was a young man that was interested in fighting for his country, that he loved this country and wanted to do good by this country.
"We want people to know that the whole squadron that he belonged to -- that's the main thing they were interested in, is representing their country. We're just honored that the Bartow History [Museum is highlighting him]. ... So we're really just proud of him, who he is and what he stood for."
Kicking off the exhibit will be a preview and reception for museum members on Thursday at 6 p.m. The reception will be followed by a 7 p.m. lecture from Jennifer Dickey with Kennesaw State University who will discuss the exhibit and the overall contributions of the Tuskegee Airmen. For February's Evening Lecture, the Morgan brothers will highlight their uncle's life and World War II service at 7 p.m.
Free for BHM members, the lectures will be included with regular museum admission -- $5.50 for adults, $4.50 for students and individuals 65 and older, and free for active military personnel and children 5 and younger. Patrons that present a ticket stub from the "Red Tails" movie will receive a $1 discount off the price of admission until the "The Tuskegee Airmen: The Segregated Skies of World War II" concludes in March.
For more information about the Bartow History Museum's offerings, visit www.bartowhistorymuseum.org or call 770-382-3818.