Spencer lands Red Tail exhibit

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 9, 2012

By Mark Wineka
SPENCER — The idea hatched in December at one of those “Business After Hours” gatherings sponsored by the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce.
Eleanor Qadirah was talking with Republican candidate for Congress Vernon Robinson, who said he was a descendant of a Tuskegee Airman. He told her about a traveling exhibit of the Commemorative Air Force’s Red Tail Squadron and said he could put her in touch with the people behind it.
Qadirah, who was involved with planning for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. parade in Salisbury, thought the Red Tail Squadron exhibit would be a perfect complement to the King holiday. It also would dovetail with the highly anticipated national release of “Red Tails,” the George Lucas movie about the Tuskegee Airmen.
But there wasn’t enough time to pull it all together and raise the $6,000 needed to bring the exhibit here.
Qadirah didn’t quit, recognizing it might be an even better project for Black History Month.
She made a pitch to James Meacham, executive director of the Rowan County Convention and Visitors Bureau, and sent emails to everyone she knew. She also spoke with people associated with institutions and groups such as Livingstone College, the Dixonville Cemetery Task Force and West End Community Organization.
“I started all this madness,” she says.
Meanwhile, she also was in contact with the Commemorative Air Force, the group behind the exhibit.
“I said Salisbury is good, and Salisbury likes interesting things,” Qadirah says.
The sponsorships and community partnerships came through. The CAF Red Tail Squadron’s “Rise Above” Traveling Exhibit will be at the N.C. Transportation Museum next Wednesday through Saturday, Feb. 15-18.
The exhibit will be free to the public, and visitors do not have to pay a separate admission to the Transportation Museum to see it. It will be open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday of next week.
The “Rise Above” exhibit is housed in a 53-foot trailer that has expandable sides. It provides a 160-degree curved movie screen and theater seating for 30 people.
The audience sees a short, original movie about the Tuskegee Airmen and what these pilots and support personnel had to overcome to fly and fight for the United States during World War II.
It features footage taken from a P-51C fighter plane, the model flown by the Tuskegee Airmen, the first black fighter pilots to serve in the U.S. Army Air Corps. The airmen also were supported by black men and women on the ground.
After training at a segregated air base in Tuskegee, Ala., the black pilots and their crews were deployed first to Africa, then Italy, where they distinguished themselves as aviators.
They painted the tails of their planes red, and bomber pilots began requesting the “red tail angels” as escorts in their flying missions against Germany.
Tuskegee Airmen flew more than 15,000 combat sorties and earned hundreds of medals and decorations, including the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007 for their war service to the country.
Qadirah says a P-51C Mustang often is part of the exhibit, but bringing the plane would have cost an extra $4,000.
According to promotional materials, “Rise Above” uses the Tuskegee Airmen’s story as an inspirational example of how young people might reach beyond their grasp to attain higher levels of achievement, “rising above” challenging circumstances in life.
School groups and other organizations are being invited to see the exhibit.
The six guiding principles of the Tuskegee Airmen were the following: “Aim high. Believe in yourself. Use your brain. Never quit. Be ready to go. Expect to win.”
Sponsors for the exhibit include the Rowan County Tourism Development Authority, Salisbury Tourism and Cultural Development Commission, Livingstone College, the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter No. 1083, Qadirah, Peggy H. Johnson, Betty Dan Spencer, Donnie Clement and Salisbury Motor Co., the Piedmont Silver Eagles Retired Pilots Association and the N.C. Transportation Museum Foundation.
Items that will be on sale include dog tags with the Red Tails’ principles, $5; Red Tail history books, $25; Red Tail hats, $20; Red Tail coins, $10 and $20; Red Tail shirts, $20; and Red Tail jackets, $350.
The exhibit is coming from Atlanta and, after its stay at the Transportation Museum, will be heading to Apple Valley, Minn., and Columbus, Miss.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.
Red Tail Squadron’s ‘Rise Above’ Traveling Exhibit
When: Feb. 15-18
Where: N.C. Transportation Museum, Spencer
Times: 9 a.m.- 5p.m.
What: The ‘Rise Above’ exhibit focuses on the Tuskegee Airmen, the country’s first black military pilots (and support crews) who rose above obstacles of race and became decorated aviators in World War II. The exhibit features a brief movie shown on a 160-degree, curved screen in a 30-seat theater.
Cost: Free.
Information: Groups are welcome, but they are being asked to schedule their visits by calling Brian Moffitt at 704-636-2889, extension 257.