Teaching African American History

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Tuskegee Airman Lt. Col Dryden in front of the LMS Tuskegee Airman Display Cabinet.
Tuskegee Airman Lt. Col Dryden in front of the LMS Tuskegee Airman Display Cabinet.

Teaching African American History

by: Ms. Maryanne Tirinnanzi | .
Lester Middle School | .
published: February 04, 2014

Editor’s note: Stripes Okinawa is partnering with DODEA Pacific in February to present the insights of educators on teaching African American history. If you have a teaching/learning moment on black history you’d like to share, email it to: Okinawa@stripes.com

In my Humanities class from 2001 to 2008, we studied Black Military History. The highlights of the unit included an art showcase of Buffalo Soldiers and their role in the westward movement. They protected the settlers, stage coaches and military forts under extreme hostile conditions. In addition, each class created a large showcase on World War II Tuskegee Airmen.

The culminating event for our study in April 2008 was a real treat! World-renowned guest speaker retired Tuskegee Airmen Lt. Col. “A-Train” Dryden spoke to the entire school about his flight experiences in Europe fighting the Luftwaffe as well as discrimination issues in the 1940s.  After his lecture, he posed with many students and staff in front of Lester Middle School’s Tuskegee Airmen display.

Recently, my students studied the role of women in the Civil Rights Movement and they created poems that were recorded while pictures from that era were displayed on the video screen. That project received an honorary award and it was shown during the Kadena Air Base Civil Rights Celebration dinner.

This year my students are creating 12-slide power point presentations on extraordinary African American scientists, astronauts, inventors and physicians to include Dr. Charles Drew, George Washington Carver, Elijah McCoy, Percy Julian and many more. Although Black History Month activities are only a small part of my academic program, the awareness and knowledge gained is immeasurable.

Author's Bio
My name is Ms. Maryanne Tirinnanzi and my parents were in the Air Force.  

My father’s commanding officer was a Tuskegee Airmen. In addition, Mr. Jim Bryson, my next door neighbor in Washington D. C.  was a Tuskegee Airmen.( he has also passed away) Although we did not study Tuskegee Airman history at school when I was growing up, I was able to visit my neighbor’s den which was filled with memorabilia.

I started teaching when I was in college as a tutor for Vietnam Veterans at the VA in San Antonio, Texas in 1980. In addition, I went back to the Washington D.C. suburbs to teach for eleven years prior to joining DODDS as a high school teacher in Korea. During that time, the Joint Chief of Staff was Colin Powell. He had a local program honoring Buffalo Soldiers and reenacting scenes from that time period of the westward movement. He inspired me to teach similar lessons to my students in the 1990’s through present day.

Although I was born on Tinker AFB, Okla., we moved every year. Like most military brats, I call home every place I am currently living!  My legal residence is Las Vegas, Nevada. I have been teaching for DODEA since 2000. I taught for eight years on Okinawa before moving to a position in Europe and moved back to Okinawa as soon as possible after earning a Master of Public Health during official educational leave. Of all the places I have lived to include eighteen states and seven countries, I feel most at home in the beach environment of Okinawa at the best school on the island!

Tuskegee Airman

In spite of adversity and limited opportunities, African Americans have played a significant role in U.S. military history over the past 300 years. They were denied military leadership roles and skilled training because many believed they lacked qualifications for combat duty. Before 1940, African Americans were barred from flying for the U.S. military. Civil rights organizations and the black press exerted pressure that resulted in the formation of an all African-American pursuit squadron based in Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1941. They became known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

“Tuskegee Airmen” refers to all who were involved in the so-called “Tuskegee Experiment,” the Army Air Corps program to train African Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft. The Tuskegee Airmen included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors, and all the personnel who kept the planes in the air.

The military selected Tuskegee Institute to train pilots because of its commitment to aeronautical training. Tuskegee had the facilities, and engineering and technical instructors, as well as a climate for year round flying. The first Civilian Pilot Training Program students completed their instruction in May 1940. The Tuskegee program was then expanded and became the center for African-American aviation during World War II.

The Tuskegee Airmen overcame segregation and prejudice to become one of the most highly respected fighter groups of World War II. They proved conclusively that African Americans could fly and maintain sophisticated combat aircraft. The Tuskegee Airmen’s achievements, together with the men and women who supported them, paved the way for full integration of the U.S. military.

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