As it was the 1940s, the first African-American fighter pilots in United States military history had to deal with racism, segregation, and prejudice at home. And as World War II was raging at the time, those who saw combat also had to deal with trained enemy armies in Europe and North Africa.

Nevertheless, members of this unit managed to overcome these obstacles and contribute honorably to the war effort. And along the way, they made history while also becoming great friends and taking even greater steps to shattering negative stereotypes.

This story will come to life in an uplifting, inspiring style when “Black Angels of Tuskegee” hits the stage at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center on Saturday, Feb. 16, at 2 p.m.

Written and directed by Layon Gray, the two-hours-plus production begins with the protagonists facing the hostile, Jim Crow environment that was the norm at the time in Alabama. All are African American, and the powerful people in the U.S. Armed Forces question their intelligence, patriotism, courage, and general competence. Regardless, the main characters – who come from different parts of the country and include a loner, a romantic, and a sensitive type — pass a test, become pilots, and see combat as the Tuskegee Airmen.

A narrator provides historical facts and explains racial segregation as the play develops.

Tickets are $10, but children can attend for only $5. The Jamaica Performing Arts Center is at 153-10 Jamaica Ave. (Please note that the Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning is the organizer, but the Jamaica Performing Arts Center is the host. These entities are related.)

“Black Angels of Tuskegee” is fiction, but it’s based on a true story. The Tuskegee Airmen consisted of a large group that included bombardiers, mechanics, navigators, and even nurses and cooks. Training from 1941 to 1946, they formed the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Forces.

Members received at least one Silver Star, 14 Bronze Stars, 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and eight Purple Hearts. They shot down three German jets in one day.

Former Airmen include Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Afro-Am Publishing founder Eugene Winslow, and three career military men: Daniel James who was appointed brigadier general by President Richard Nixon; Benjamin Oliver Davis Jr., who retired as a four-star general; and Lucius Theus, a major general. Noel Francis Parrish, a white man who commanded the group, became a brigadier general.

Black Angels of Tuskegee” is touring the country in the Off-Broadway category. After Jamaica, the crew has upcoming gigs in Tennessee and Virginia.

Images: Black Angels of Tuskegee


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