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MMA program to honor pioneers in Black History

By Staff
Special to The Star
Feb. 10, 2002
Saturday at 5 p.m. the Meridian Museum of Art and the Delta Nu Zeta Chapter of the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority will present "The Tuskegee Airmen" a special program celebrating and honoring the legacy of these patriotic pioneers.
Highlights of the evening will include guest speaker, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Alva N. Temple, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, music by the Meridian Community College Gospel Chorus, paintings by James Conner and Jimmy Hand, and scenes from the HBO film, "The Tuskegee Airmen." A reception will follow the program. The event is free and open to everyone.
The Tuskegee Airmen
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American flying unit in the United States military. Formed during World War II as part of the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF), the airmen were trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. The first class became the 99th Pursuit Squadron, commanded by Lt. Col. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. (who later became the first African-American general in the U.S. Air Force), which flew its first mission in the Mediterranean in 1943.
Later that year the army activated three more squadrons, who joined with the 99th in 1944 to become the 332nd Fighter Group. Called the "Schwartze Vogelmenshen" (Black Birdmen) by the Germans, and the "The Black Redtail Angels" by the white American bomber crews, the 332nd left not only a legacy of courage fighting both the enemy abroad and racism at home they also left an enviable record: winners of 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, Legions of Merit and the Red Star of Yugoslavia. They were the only escort group during the war that did not lose a single bomber to enemy planes.
Who is Temple?
Alva N. Temple was born in Pickens County near Carrollton, Ala,, and graduated from high school at Pickens County Training School before attending Alabama A and M College. He was attending the Tuskegee Institute when he was called into the service during World War II.
He completed Aviation Cadet Training at Tuskegee Army Flying School, Class 43-G, and received his commission in July 1943. In December 1943, he was transferred to the 99th Pursuit Squadron in Italy. During the next 15 months he flew 120 combat missions over Italy, Southern Europe, Southern France and the Balkan nations. His combat decorations included the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal.
After returning to the United States, he served stateside at several locations as a flight instructor, and in various operation and command positions in the Air Defense Command. He retired as lieutenant colonel command pilot with over 5,000 flying hours in Air Force Fighters and Jet Interceptors.
After retirement, Lt. Col. Temple served as the Commissioner for the Mississippi Department of Natural Resources. He presently serves as Chairman of Deacons and Trustees, and Adult Men Sunday School Teacher at Pine Grove Baptist Church in Carrollton. He is the owner-operator of Temple's BP Station and Radiator Repair Shop near Columbus. He married the former Lucille Grimes of Tuskegee in 1947, and they have been blessed with a daughter and three grandchildren.
Artists Conner and Hand
Artists James Conner and Jimmy Hand of Tuscaloosa and Pearl, respectively, bring a longtime familiarity with their subjects to their paintings in this program James Conner has not only been painting the Tuskegee Airmen for many years, he is a military veteran himself, having served two tours of duty in Vietnam and Europe with the U.S. Army.
Jimmy Hand paints many types of work, but aviation art is a particular specialty. His detailed and highly-researched paintings hang not only in private collections but also in various Mississippi Air National Guard bases, in the Mighty Eighth Air Force Heritage Museum in Savannah, Ga., and in the U.S. Air Force Art Collection in Washington, D.C.

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