Tuskegee Airmen honored at Selfridge

New street sign unveiled during Feb. 27 event

By: Julie Snyder | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published March 1, 2018

 Tuskegee Airmen Frederick Henry Sr., seated, and Harry Stewart Jr. were on hand for a Feb. 27 event at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township honoring the contributions of black men and women in the military, including a street renaming ceremony.

Tuskegee Airmen Frederick Henry Sr., seated, and Harry Stewart Jr. were on hand for a Feb. 27 event at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township honoring the contributions of black men and women in the military, including a street renaming ceremony.

Photo by Deb Jacques

HARRISON TOWNSHIP — Selfridge Air National Guard Base officials honored current and late members of the Tuskegee Airmen during a formal ceremony led by the base’s Cultural Diversity Council on Feb. 27.

The event was attended by members of the Selfridge community, local leaders, as well as members of the Tuskegee Airmen — the first black air squadron in the U.S. armed forces.

“We have a deep appreciation for what you’ve done for this country,” said Brig. Gen. John Slocum, commander of the 127th Wing at Selfridge, during the ceremony to celebrate Black History Month and rename a street on the base after the historic military group. “We’re proud to have you here.”

Tuskegee members in attendance included former World War II pilots Harry Stewart Jr., Frederick Henry Sr. and Alexander Jefferson, each of whom served in the 127th Wing.

Keynote speaker Maj. Gen. Leonard Isabelle, assistant adjunct general and commander of the Michigan National Guard, said the contributions of the Tuskegee Airmen and all black men and women in the armed forces paved the way for desegregation of the military.

“We value diversity in the military, but it wasn’t always the case,” he said. “I flew and trained everywhere, but I can’t imagine going somewhere to fly and not knowing if I would have a place to sleep when I got there or if I would be treated well.”

He explained how Selfridge was one of several training sites for black military units after President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order abolishing segregation in the armed forces in 1948.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order in 1941 banning racial discrimination in defense industries and the government. As a result of Roosevelt’s actions, black military members for the first time began receiving flight instructions at Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, a campus established by Booker T. Washington. In addition, for the first time black nurses were being sent overseas to treat soldiers.

The discriminatory experiences faced by black soldiers during World War II are often considered the civil rights precursor to the 1960s movement.

“The (Tuskegee) unit started as an experiment, really, and it took interventions from local and military advocates to have them deploy on their first flight to serve our country,” Isabelle said.

The surviving members in attendance looked on as officials unveiled the new “Tuskegee Airmen Way” street sign that will be installed at the base.

“It’s an honor to forever be on the streets of Selfridge,” said Stewart, 93. Stewart flew fighter planes on 43 missions escorting bombers over Germany.

Slocum called the street renaming “well deserved and long overdue.

“The greatest strength of our airmen is their diversity.”