The Great Plains Black History Museum located at 2221 N 24th St. is currently hosting an exhibit featuring the Tuskegee Airmen—several of who were from Nebraska.
The Tuskegee Airmen were an almost entirely all African-American group of pilots and crewman who fought in World War II. They composed the 332nd Fighter group and 447th Bombardment group that would fight overseas. The group’s name comes from the fact that they trained at an airfield in Tuskegee, Alabama.
“It’s kind of a forgotten story and how it impacted African-Americans,” said Eric Ewing, the executive director of the Great Plains Black History Museum.
Fighter pilots of the Tuskegee Airmen painted the tails of their planes red, giving rising to the name Red Tails. In recent years, this group of fights has become subject to increasing attention and even featured in the 2012 movie “Red Tails.”
Ewing clarified the common misconception about Red Tails and Tuskegee Airmen. Red Tails specifically were the fighter pilots of the Tuskegee Airmen. So, while all Red Tails were Tuskegee Airmen, not all Tuskegee Airmen were Red Tails.
Tuskegee Airmen artifacts on display include models of the airplanes they flew, replica dog tags and preserved articles about their deeds in World War II. Additionally, there are biographies of the Airmen who lived in Nebraska.
While not directly pertaining to the Tuskegee Airmen, a flight suit worn by Barrington Irving is also on display. Irving was the first African-American to fly solo around the world, and he was also the youngest at the time he did it.
Ewing said that he believes Irving’s accomplishment was made possible by the groundbreaking efforts of the Tuskegee Airmen. That’s why Ewing made sure to request an artifact from Irving when he met him last year.
The last living member of the Nebraskan Tuskegee Airmen is Robert Holts, who lives in Omaha to this day.
The Tuskegee Airmen exhibit isn’t the only thing currently on display at the museum. The entrance area contains photos illustrating Omaha’s African-American history throughout the past century.
One photo depicts several members of the Black Panther movie standing guard outside of the Omaha Star Newspaper’s main building, which is just across the street from the Great Plains Black History Museum.
“It’s unfortunate, but any time a group or individual is being oppressed, there tends to be uprising,” Ewing said about the riots that impacted north Omaha in the 1960s. “It’s unfortunate when that occurs because it impacts the community economically.”
“It wasn’t like these were sent from down South,” Ewing said. “These were found in homes in Nebraska.”
Ewing said that these Ku Klux Klan artifacts are important to have on display because they remind visitors that hate groups were active in the Omaha region and their influence can persist.
The Great Plains Black History Museum is free to visit and is open Thursday through Saturday, from 1 to 5 p.m.
The museum is always looking for volunteers to help with upcoming projects and exhibits. Those who are interested in contributing to the museum’s activities can contact Eric Ewing at 402-932-7077. He can also be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.