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Tournament of Roses Float Honors Tuskegee Airmen

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When the West Covina Rose Float Foundation decided to honor the Tuskegee Airmen with the city’s annual entry in the New Year’s Day parade, float designers turned to archivists at the University of California, Riverside for help.

UCR Libraries house the Western Region Tuskegee Airmen Archive, a growing collection of papers, photographs and oral histories of the pilots and others associated with the Tuskegee experience.

Charisma Floats, which is building the float designed by the award-winning Raul Rodriguez, contacted the UCR archive for information and photographs, including accurate profiles of the planes for painting and for patches and shields on the float, said Frank T, Scalfaro, chairman and president of the West Covina Rose Float Foundation.

UCR “was very helpful to help us achieve getting this information,” he said. The float, titled “Tuskegee Airmen – A Cut Above,” pays tribute to the service, bravery and commitment of the Tuskegee Airmen, Scalfaro said.

The Tuskegee Airmen, the group of African American pilots who trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama, flew combat missions as bomber escorts in the European theater during World War II with few losses to enemy fighters. A total of 992 pilots graduated from the Tuskegee airfield courses. They flew 1,578 missions and 15,533 sorties, destroyed 261 enemy aircraft and won more than 850 medals.

University Librarian Ruth Jackson said UCR was pleased to assist the float designers and the West Covina foundation with their research.

“The honoring of the Tuskegee Airmen by the West Covina Rose Float Foundation with the beautiful float to be included in the 2010 Tournament of Roses Parade is another extension of national recognition and celebration of the many accomplishments of this distinguished group of African Americans during their World War II service and afterwards,” she said. “The unique role of the airmen and airwomen who broke race barriers in military aviation history and other areas of flight in later years, including commercial aviation and ultimately space flight, will be beneficial for minorities and the fabric of the nation for generations to come.”

The West Covina float – the city’s 12th consecutive entry in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade – will include 16 of the original Tuskegee Airmen as riders.

The riders and their cities of residence are: Harlan Leonard, Riverside; Isham “Rusty” Burns, Palm Desert; Dr. Robert McCoy (Rocky) Higginbotham, Rancho Mirage; Theodore Lumpkin, Los Angeles; Wilbert (Bill) Johnson, Los Angeles; Col. Louis Hill, Los Angeles; Mitchell Higginbotham, Dana Point; Oliver “Ollie” Goodall, Jr. , Altadena; Clarence (Red) Finley, Los Angeles; Jerry Hodges, Los Angeles; Larry E.

(Boon) Brown, Sacramento ; Dr. Thurston Gaines, Sun City West, Ariz. ; Robert Ashby, Sun City West, Ariz.; Dr. Granville (Duke) Coggs, San Antonio, Texas; Col. Charles E. McGee, Bethesda, Md. ; and Alexander Jefferson, Detroit, Mich.

The Western Region Tuskegee Airmen Archive includes oral history interviews with various of the airmen who will be riding on the float, including an interview with Goodall that can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/ucrwrtaa.

The archive also includes the papers of Mitchell Higginbotham which can be viewed, in part, online at

http://library.ucr.edu/content/tuskegee/findingaids/higginbotham.xml.

The archive, established in 2004, gathers the personal papers of pilots, mechanics, bombardiers and others who were part of the Tuskegee experience from their military service through careers as doctors, lawyers, judges, nurses, teachers, musicians and others.

“We’re interested in individual histories, not only from the Tuskegee years but also their contributions to society and their communities,” said Chuck Wilson, university archivist. “This archive is available for the public to get a better understanding of the Tuskegee experience and the people involved in it.”

 

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