Former Tuskegee Airman Lt. Colonel Ted Lumpkin, Jr. was celebrating his 99th birthday when he visited campus for a conversation with fellow airman and USC alumnus Jerry Hodges and two USC students Thursday.
The event, “Blue Skies, Red Tails: Honoring the Legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen,” was co-hosted by the Tuskegee Airmen Scholarship Foundation, which has disbursed over $1.7 million through 1,300 scholarships to provide financial aid for college students, its website said.
“Too often, the history of the Tuskegee Airmen escapes the younger generation,” said TASF executive director Edward Grice. “That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to bring these fine gentlemen to you tonight.”
The Tuskegee Airmen, so-called for their training base in Tuskegee, Alabama, were the first African American men and women to join the then-segregated U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. According to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the Tuskegee Airmen fought battles in North Africa and Europe during the war, and their contributions eventually led to the desegregation of the U.S. military in 1948.
Hodges served as a base statistical control officer until 1946 and went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in accounting from USC in 1950. Lumpkin received basic and radar training at Tuskegee Army Air Field before receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from USC in 1947 and 1953, respectively.
The discussion was moderated by Sedaka Brown, a senior majoring in sociology, and Ayojide Hospidales, a sophomore majoring in political science. Hospidales, a TASF scholarship recipient, asked the two men how they feel about the “negative stigma” surrounding the military in the African American community.
“I think the military is the most democratic institution we have in our country,” Lumpkin said. “I think it helps you in civilian life … All in all I’d say it’s a good thing.”
Hospidales also asked the airmen what advice they have for young African Americans like himself.
“Try to do the best you can each and every day on all the efforts that you are challenged with,” Hodges said. “If you do the best that you can, you then don’t have to worry what history will say about whatever it is you have done.”
Hodges said he has come to realize the importance of respecting older people and learning from their lived experiences. Lumpkin stressed the importance of young people understanding the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.
“If young people will adhere to [the Tuskegee Airmen’s] goals and objectives, when their Tuskegee comes, they’re going to be able to meet the challenge,” Hodges said.
Cathy Tomlin, whose great uncle was a Tuskegee airman, was one of the first recipients of the Tuskegee Airmen scholarship in 1981. She said this event was her first time attending an event with Tuskegee Airmen since her time at Tuskegee University.
“It’s really been intrinsic to who I am, because I grew up with that history,” said Tomlin, a systems liaison specialist in the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry. “It’s kind of tragic that we’re losing this history, but it’s great that there are these opportunities like this event tonight.”
This story is part of the Daily Trojan’s special coverage for Black History Month. It will run periodically throughout February.