Special guest speaker Deacon James Shipley, 88, a Tuskegee Airman and former World War II crew chief with the 332nd Fighter Group, will present his story Saturday during the Sedalia-Pettis County National Association for Advancement of Colored People Freedom Fund Banquet.
Shipley, of Tipton, will talk about his time spent with the prestigious airmen and the history behind the unit.
“How fortunate it is that we are able to have Deacon Shipley come,” Sedalia-Pettis County NAACP President Rhonda Chalfant noted. “The Tuskegee Airmen certainly need to be remembered for their contribution to the war effort and for the difficulties they had to overcome, to be allowed to fly and to be recognized as pilots.
“Our theme this year is ‘Flying Beyond the Boundaries,’” she added. “There had been some suggestions that we try and have him come and speak and suggestions he speak at the banquet instead of a separate event. When he agreed to come, it just seemed such an obvious theme.
“In so many ways the Tuskegee Airmen flew beyond the boundaries of the United States — they were involved in Africa, Italy and Germany during the war. They flew beyond the boundaries of racial discrimination that was so prevalent at the time. The military was segregated at that time.”
Chalfant said the men faced “horrible” discrimination getting the unit off the ground.
“… In getting the white power structure to realize that yes, black men could indeed be trained to fly,” she noted. “During World War I most of the black troops that served, served in support functions. They dug the ditches and built the barracks and took out the trash.
“It was a waste of their talents, in many respects, for them to be resigned to that sort of of work,” she added. “Attitudes had changed somewhat by World War II, but not completely. There were still those who did not accept the idea of a black fighting force.”
During the evening’s events, two $500 scholarships will be awarded by the the local chapter to a young woman from Sedalia and to a young man from Smithton.
“In the past, we’ve simply learned about someone who was going to college or who was in need,” Chalfant said. “This year we had an application process and an essay. I was impressed by the quality of the recommendations of these two students.”
Students were required to write an essay presenting the theme of “As a new voter what qualities do I think are necessary for the person serving as President?”
Chalfant said several former scholarship recipients have gone into nursing, one has become a research scientist, one a lawyer and one a history teacher.
“It’s just a wide range,” she added. “(The scholarship) is based on a combination of need and ability.”
Burns Chapel Youth Praise/Dance Team and others will also present music during this year’s banquet.
Chalfant said the public is invited to attend the fundraising event. Tickets are $25 with most of the money raised going back into the Sedalia-Pettis County NAACP scholarship fund.
“We hope lots of people turn out,” she added. “It’s the one and only fundraiser we do each year. I think this is an event that history teachers particularly would be interested in.”
Sedalia-Pettis County NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet will be hosted at 4 p.m. Saturday at Best Western State Fair Inn, 3120 W. Limit Ave. The cost is $25.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss; photo courtesy of the Tuskegee Airmen National Museum.