During World War II, a select group of black men trained at Chanute Field in Illinois.
The men later relocated to Tuskegee Airfield in Alabama and would become known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
One of these men was Ralph H. Davis, the first black man from Rhode Island to earn his pilot’s license. He served as a mechanic during World War II.
His son, Clinton Davis, spoke Sunday evening at Union Baptist Church in Waynesboro for a Black History Month celebration hosted by the Waynesboro branch of the NAACP.
Clinton Davis, who lives in Staunton, began speaking at local schools in 2012 sharing stories of Black history with students. He said that Black History Month is not just in February for him, it’s all year long.
Ralph Davis was 18 years old when he received his pilot’s license, and he kept it for 55 years. He did not wait for the draft after World War II began, he enlisted and was in basic training for 28 weeks before he joined the Tuskegee Airmen.
“They stayed at Tuskegee the whole time for the war,” Clinton Davis said.
His father was a part-time instructor during the war. Of the 19,000 at Tuskegee Air Base, 1,000 were pilots.
In 2000, Clinton Davis said that the 16 Tuskegee Airmen who were from Rhode Island, including his father, were inducted into the Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame.
He said he asked his father about how truthful was the 1995 film “The Tuskegee Airmen,” starring Laurence Fishburne and Cuba Gooding Jr. His father said it was “95 percent Hollywood, 5 percent true.”
The best movie about race relations in the 1960s, Davis said, is the 2018 film “Green Book,” starring Viggo Mortensen, which was nominated for five Academy Awards and received three awards.
Davis said that in 1984 he visited Tuskegee with his father, but the federal government had torn down all of the buildings at the Air Force Base.
In May 2021, according to its website, the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site reopened to visitors after COVID-19.
“It’s a whole untold story that people don’t know about,” Clinton Davis said of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Clinton Davis’s parents later moved to the Valley. His mother, Mary Davis, was a teacher for 39 years, including in Albemarle County. She ended her career at Bessie Weller Elementary School in Staunton.
The history of Black History Month
Dr. Carter G. Woodson was an editor, educator and author. He founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915. He initiated Negro History Week in 1926, which became Black History Month in 1976.
Each year, Black History Month has a different theme. This year’s is “African Americans in Time Like These.”
This year, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People celebrates 114 years. The NAACP was founded on February 12, the 100th anniversary of President Abrahm Lincoln’s birthday,