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March 13, 2009
Ohio Judicial Center Adds Tuskegee Airmen Paintings to Art Collection

Gen. Daniel "Chappie" James Jr., Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., Col. George S. "Spanky" Roberts, Capt. Louis R. Purnell and Lt. Col. Harry T. Stewart Jr.

The Supreme Court of Ohio today unveiled five paintings of some of the first African American pilots who flew World War II combat missions and played a major role in the integration of the U.S. Armed Forces.

The paintings, from the Tuskegee Airmen Series, feature five men of the nearly 1,000 who completed the flight course at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama between 1941 and 1945. The 332nd Fighter Group was composed of African American pilots and ground support personnel who trained at Tuskegee Field and became collectively known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

The portraits, which were painted in 2007 and donated to the Supreme Court by Delaware artist Robert E. Tanner Sr., feature:

Hundreds of Tuskegee Airmen saw combat in Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa by escorting bomber aircraft on missions. The 332nd Fighter Group amassed an enviable combat record, which in many ways remains unequaled.

Besides their historic significance, the Tuskegee Airmen have an Ohio connection: after WWII, the 332nd Fighter Group was stationed at Lockbourne Army Air Base (now Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base) in March 1946. An Ohio Historical Marker erected in Ohio’s 2003 bicentennial year celebrates this fact. “In July 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order No. 9981, which mandated ‘equality of treatment and opportunity in the armed forces.’ The Tuskegee Airmen played a major role in the integration of all U.S. military forces.”

The 332nd Fighter Group remained at Lockbourne until its deactivation in June 1949. March 13 marks the day that Davis assumed command of the Lockbourne base more than 60 years ago.

Tanner said as a young boy he had a fascination with WWII aircraft, particularly the P-51 Mustangs that were flown by the Tuskegee Airmen. His interest in the Mustang was renewed as an adult as he learned more about the Tuskegee Airmen.

Nostalgia for the Mustang and the local connection with the Tuskegee Airmen is what he “hoped to capture on canvas.” He began the series of paintings with Generals Davis and James “because of their significant role in the Tuskegee story,” he said. “After that it was just an art choice because there were so many incredible stories of the Tuskegee men and women. I felt these five would be representative of all the airmen who played a role in the defense of our country during our war years.”

In accepting the gift on behalf of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer also saluted the service of the Tuskegee Airmen. “This generous donation spotlights an important part of our country’s military history,” he said. “The local connection to these paintings makes a compelling case for history buffs, in addition to art lovers, to visit the Ohio Judicial Center to view the Tuskegee Airmen paintings.”

Chief Justice Moyer also noted the timeliness of the installation of the paintings. Last year, the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site was dedicated at the Alabama air field used to train the pilots.

The works are on display in the Judicial Education Center, a classroom used to train judges and court personnel.

To schedule a tour of the artwork – including the Tuskegee Airmen paintings – on display at Ohio Judicial Center, call 614.387.9223 or email courttours@sc.ohio.gov.

Contact: Chris Davey or Bret Crow at 614.387.9250.