THEY BROKE BARRIERS: The Tuskegee Airmen were “individuals who did what folks said they couldn’t do,” said Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Toby Hubbard, president of Central Florida’s Tuskegee Airmen chapter named for Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James, above. “They not only survived this. They excelled at it.” PHOTO COURTESY OF WIKIPEDIA

Miami, Fla. – Officials of the state of Florida want to honor the Tuskegee Airmen, who were the first African American military pilots to fight in World War II, with a legal holiday.

Two bills filed in the Florida Legislature would designate a holiday for the pilots and bombers who served in the second World War after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

They formed the 332nd Fighter Group of the United States Army Air Forces who trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Fields and were educated at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

State Sen. Victor M. Torres, a Democrat from Orange County who served in the United States Marine Corps, is sponsoring SB 1312, which denotes Tuskegee Airmen Commemoration Day, to celebrate their heroism by declaring a legal holiday in the state on the fourth Thursday in March each year.

Ocala Democratic state Rep. Bruce Antone, who graduated from Tuskegee Institute, filed companion bill HB 1227, which is also making its way through the Legislature.

“The Tuskegee airmen have received numerous awards and medals for their combat bravery and service over the years," Torres said to the committee. "Many notable Floridians have received honors for their contributions over the last decade.”

If both bills pass, and are signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida will become the 10th state to honor the Tuskegee Airmen.

On Feb. 9, 2024, Sumter, SC decided on a monument in Veterans Park honoring airmen. Monuments also have been constructed in Michigan, California, Pennsylvania, Indiana and several other states.

Kentucky and Illinois created memorial trails to honor the airmen as well.

Years after the war ended, the Tuskegee Airmen were awarded three Distinguished Unit Citations for their excellent combat record earned while protecting American bombers from enemy fighters.

The group broke color barriers during the war when African American pilots were not allowed to serve in American military outfits.

The segregation of African Americans pilots in the military sparked protests by civil rights activists and the NAACP, which led to an amendment designating funds to train Black pilots in 1939.

Under pressure, the Army Air Corps instituted the first all-Black flying unit, the 99th Pursuit Squadron, which was the first Black flying squadron deployed overseas in 1943.

But the Tuskegee Airmen were the first Black flying group which was stationed in Italy in 1944.

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Toby Hubbard, president of Central Florida’s Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Tuskegee Airmen chapter, said it’s crucial to designate a holiday for the men.

Hubbard told legislators young people especially have much to learn from the legacy of the first Black military pilots, who broke down barriers to serving in our nation’s Air Force.

“So, don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do,” said Hubbard. “Because here’s a story of individuals who did what folks said they couldn’t do. They not only survived this. They excelled at it.”