Celebrating Our Heroes!
Good Morning America host, Robin Roberts, honors her father, the late Col. Lawrence Roberts, and the other 921 Tuskegee Airmen who fought in World War II with a new documentary. In celebration of Black History Month, Tuskegee Airmen: Legacy of Courage, about America’s first Black military pilots, will premiere on the History Channel.
“The legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen is one that I hold extremely close to my heart, and I am thrilled to partner with The HISTORY® Channel to tell their stories,” Roberts said in a statement. “My father, Colonel Lawrence E. Roberts, was a Tuskegee Airman, and their service helped pave the way for the Civil Rights Movement and contributed to the end of segregation in the military.”
In the summer of 1941, the first class of Black fighter pilots began training at the Tuskegee Institute of Alabama during the height of Jim Crow. It took the Black soldiers who returned from World War I advocating for themselves for Congress to pass a law in 1939 appropriating funds to train Black pilots. However, the airmen still faced bigotry in the segregated army, which thought of the Black soldiers as no more than a “Negro experiment.”
It brings tears to my eyes each time I read my father Col. Lawrence E. Roberts’ powerful words regarding his experience as a member of the #TuskegeeAirmen.
— Robin Roberts (@RobinRoberts) February 9, 2021advertisement
Roberts, the executive producer and narrator of the one-hour documentary, said that now is necessary to reflect on the airmen.
“What was going on last summer – people taking to the streets – it reminded me of the sixties all over again. It was very similar,” Roberts told Essence. “And I wanted the young people of today to feel the connection of what they’re doing now with what happened before them. And that’s what this film does. It examines a broader legacy of the Airmen.”
Roberts’ father was born Dec. 9, 1922, in Vauxhall, New Jersey. While a student at Howard University, Roberts’ grandmother learned of the Tuskegee program and petitioned a white politician she’d campaigned for to get him enrolled. At 19, Col. Roberts left Howard for Alabama with brown paper bag lunches his mom prepared as he wouldn’t have been welcomed in the segregated restaurants as he traveled. Roberts was born in Tuskegee in 1960, moving with her family at age 8 to Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi. Her parents established the Keesler Air Force Base Gospel Service, one of the oldest gospel series in the United States Air Force.
Roberts said she didn’t learn about the airmen in school or home; her father didn’t see himself as a revolutionary – he was serving his country.
“That’s the beauty of these airmen. They did not get on a soapbox. They did not; they just went to work. They just wanted to serve this country. My father was the most patriotic man I have ever known in my life at a time when this country turned its back on him and men like him and people like us. It didn’t stop him. He was patriotic to the day he passed.”
On Feb. 1, in celebration of Black History Month, The History Channel launched a special segment of its “Save Our History” campaign by spotlighting everyday heroes whose contributions have shaped Black history. “Save Our History” is an ongoing public outreach project dedicated to preserving the history and historic sites nationwide. Roberts kicked off the February campaign by sharing her personal stories about her father.
“Tuskegee Airmen: Legacy of Courage” is produced for The HISTORY® Channel by Rock’n Robin Productions. Roberts and John R. Green serve as executive producers for Rock’n Robin Productions. Reni Calister is a co-executive producer. Mary E. Donahue serves as executive producer for The HISTORY® Channel. The special features found and exclusive footage, imagery, and commentary from notable figures such as Tuskegee Airman Fighter Pilot General Charles McGee, Lt. Colonel James Harvey, the late Franklin J. Macon, activist Tamika Mallory, Reverend Al Sharpton, and actors Elijah Kelley (Red Tails) and Tristan Wilds (Red Tails).
To join the celebration, viewers are encouraged to upload a photo or video to Instagram or Twitter using #SaveOurHistory @HISTORY. The HISTORY Channel is planning to help tell these stories and preserve this content for future generations.
“Tuskegee Airmen: Legacy of Courage” premieres on the History Channel on February 10 at 8PM ET/PT.
Photo Credit: Associated Press