Florida Honors Tuskegee Airmen with State Holiday While Alabama Still Doesn't

GI Bill Racial Inequality
Major James A. Ellison, left, returns the salute of Mac Ross of Dayton, Ohio, as he inspects the cadets at the Basic and Advanced Flying School for Black United States Army Air Corps cadets at the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Ala., Jan. 23, 1942. (U.S. Army Signal Corps/AP File Photo)

Florida became at least the third state to honor the Tuskegee Airmen with a state holiday when Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Tuskegee Airmen Commemoration Day into law on Monday.

Meanwhile, Alabama, home to the country’s first Black airmen, does not have a state holiday recognizing them.

A spokeswoman for Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey could not immediately be reached for comment.

While not an official state holiday, the governor has honored Tuskegee Airmen Day with a proclamation.

All of the nearly 1,000 Black military pilots who trained in the U.S. during World War II did so in Tuskegee. Of those, 450 were deployed overseas and 150 died, including 66 who were killed in action. There were also more than 15,000 support staff, like navigators, bombardiers and mechanics.

The Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site pays homage to the storied service-members, preserving five structures used for flight training during the war.

Before DeSantis signed the Florida state holiday into law, at least two other states — Mississippi and Kentucky — had laws granting a state holiday to Tuskegee Airmen Commemoration Day. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed a proclamation declaring Tuskegee Airmen Commemoration Day, but it was unclear whether the day is an official state holiday.

The Tallahassee Democrat newspaper noted that the new Florida holiday came the year after the state rejected the AP African American Studies course and created its own version which was widely criticized for whitewashing history, and a few months after the Florida Department of State rejected a slate of books for Tallahassee’s Grove Museum for its 2024 monthly storytime program, including the book “Wind Flyers” about Florida connections to the Tuskegee Airmen.

On March 28, President Biden celebrated Tuskegee Airmen Commemoration Day.

“I send my warmest greetings to all those celebrating National Tuskegee Airmen Commemoration Day-a time to honor the story, service, and sacrifice of the Black pilots, bombardiers, navigators, mechanics, instructors, and crewmembers who changed the course of history,” the president wrote in a message, according to Democrats Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C., who led a group encouraging Biden to commemorate the day.

“It’s a story that continues to inspire us today,” Biden continued. “Daring and determined, the Tuskegee Airmen blazed a new path-becoming our Nation’s first Black military pilots. They flew and supported over 15,000 sorties in battle and destroyed over 100 enemy aircraft. They defended the Allies and became one of the most decorated fighter groups during World War II. Time and again, they risked their own safety for the safety of their fellow Americans, stepping up to fly some of our country’s most dangerous and critical missions.”

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