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Tuskegee Airmen visit GSU
Screening of documentary about World War II pilots included in presentation
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Georgia Southern University student Sebastian Hodges, 20, of Augusta, right, gets an autograph from original Tuskegee Airman Lt. Col. (ret.) Albert P. McConnell during Tuesday's presentation and screening of the documentary "In Their Own Words: The Tuskegee Airman." - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
    The government said they could not fly in the United States military. Government studies depicted them as inferior, unintelligent, sub-human. But the  Tuskegee Airmen, the United State's first squadron of African-American pilots, proved them wrong. Three Tuskeegee Airmen and the widow of a late Airman spoke Tuesday  at the Georgia Southern University Information and Technology Building's auditorium. The presentation, sponsored by the  Georgia Southern University's Golden Key Honor Society, was free and open to the public.
    The Tuskegee Airmen showed heroism  that become an important part of World War Two history.  While segregation was still the norm in the U.S. military, the Tuskegee Airmen quickly proved their worth and discredited government studies that showed African Americans were inferior.
    After an entrance that garnered a standing ovation, the Airmen and company took the stage, with Lt. Col. Alfonzo Jackson introducing everyone, including original Tuskegee Airman Lt. Col. Albert P. McCollum, who served from 1941 to the end of World War II.
    The auditorium was filled to capacity,    standing room only, and an overflow crowd was directed to another room where the documentary about the group was simulcast.
    The Airmen discussed their military experience and the impact it had on the future of the U.S. armed forces. The documentary, “In Their Own Words,” told the Airmen's story from the squadron's beginning in 1941 through 2007 when the Airmen were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. The documentary featured emotional interviews, rare photographs, and computer-generated recreations, according to GSU spokesmen.
    Many students admitted to attending for class credit, but also expressed interest in  the program.
     "I thought it would be interesting," said Tricilla Pierce, an 18-year-old GSU freshman majoring in psychology. "It will be interesting to see what they went through  - and, it is a grade."
    Her cousin Demarr Pierce said he thought the program would be interesting when he first heard of it. "I thought it would be very  important to hear what they had to say."
    So did Brenda Aytes, who was there with her husband, a retired military ma. The GSU staff member said she considered the Tuskegee Airmen's tale " a pretty historic event" and "We wanted to hear what they had to say about their experiences."
    McCollum stressed the importance of military and making a difference in  the world. " I want you to think about" the future, he told the  group.
    He also asked the crowd to think about history and what the Airmen endured.
    "Believe me when I tell you it was not easy for any of us," Jackson said.
    The documentary showed how the creation of the Tuskegee Airmen affected each man, and what it was like to live in segregated times.
    The documentary also showed how Eleanor Roosevelt flew with a black pilot and played a key role in convincing the government to allow black airmen to fly in  the military.
    The presentation was moving and educational, said Brad Stemaris, a 21-year-old senior accounting major.
    "It was very interesting and showed how much of an impact ( racism) was on African Americans back then," he said. "It was really emotional."
    "I thought it was really touching," said Taryn Mason, a 19-year-old sophomore, history major. " The history was just amazing, how Eleanor Roosevelt had a big part in it, and how much it meant to them."
     Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at 489-9414.

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