Tuskegee Airmen

 

"Tuskegee Airmen Were Not Just Pilots"

File contributed for use in USGenWeb Archives by:
Charles Atkinson chatkinson@excite.com August 24, 2005, 4:42 pm
File contributed to Georgia African American Griots
December 12, 2005
Author: Charles Atkinson

 

On Fathers Day (6/18/2000), I took two of my children to my father's grave, at Springfield Baptist Church (founded in 1865) in his hometown of Crawfordville, Georgia, where Alexander H. Stephens State Park, which he was never able to visit during his life, is located. I was trying to give my children a brief history of who he was from my own limited knowledge.

 

I knew that he was the first Black Park Superintendent in Georgia and had built George Washington Carver State Park which opened in 1950, the first Negro state park in Georgia and the only state park ever named for an African - American. It is now operated by Bartow County as Bartow-Carver Park. He had leased the land from the Corps of Engineers with the intent of running a private resort like American Beach in Florida, but he could not get a license to operate it as such from Bartow County. Georgia, under Gov. Talmadge. He made an offer to make the facility a State Park for Negroes, due to mounting protest from Black WWII veterans and civic groups, and he remained the park superintendent of that facility until he became ill in the fall of 1958. The next superintendent was Clarence Benham, father of Justice Robert Benham, the first African American to win a state- wide election in Georgia and sit on the Georgia Supreme Court. This is the park where Ray Charles and Little Richard visited and performed, where Andrew Young and his family learned to water ski, and where Mrs. Coretta Scott King and her family remember many weekend outings with Ebenezer Baptist Church.

 

Shortly before WWII, my father had purchased property in the city of Atlanta, and built a house on it, only to be barred by the Atlanta Police, for two years, from moving into his house. He was told by the police that he had built his house on a 'white block' and could not move into it. This was when he was persuaded to join the military, where he served as an office clerk. When he left the military, he filed suit against the City of Atlanta. After learning of the of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Hansberry vs Lee, but that was settled out of court when Mayor William B. Hartsfield (sending a car to pick him up and bring him to city hall) told him in no uncertain terms that if he would drop his suit and the race block system in Atlanta would be abolished. And at that meeting the way was opened for Mozley Park, Dixie Hills, Grove Park, Collier Heights and areas along Bankhead Highway to become black neighborhoods. This also paved the way for the Lincoln Golf Course and Country Club to open in 1947.

 

I also remember during 1967, my family was engaged in making plaster ornaments, as Reliable Plastering Co., for a large project in Buckhead. Back in the 1920's, my father and his older brother George were plastering the walls, running cornice and installing ornaments in the Fox Theater during its construction, having mastered plastering from previous work in Florida, they were the only African - Americans working on the Fox Theater in that capacity. But, in 1967, the project was a huge house and many African - American plasterers working for Atkinson Brothers Plastering Company (our Uncle Charles' Business) were engaged on that project. Only later did I learn that it was the new Governors Mansion and we were all shocked that the first Governor to occupy the new mansion was--Lester G. Maddox.

 

But what made me write this is, I had learned much about the Army Air Forces when, on April 29, 1997, I introduced Lt. Col. Charles "Chuck" Dryden, U.S.A.F. (Ret.) for his book A -Train, Memoirs Of A Tuskegee Airman at the Wesley Chapel / William C. Brown DeKalb County Library. So this time, when I went to my father's grave, I knew that he had served in the military, but now I saw and recognized all of the writing on his headstone,

John Loyd Atkinson

Georgia

Pfc Army Air Forces

World War II

July 26,1901 - June 08, 1972

At the first opportunity, I asked my mother why no one told me that my Daddy was a Tuskegee Airman? Her reply, ever succinct, was "I thought you knew!"

Charles H. Atkinson

Decatur, Georgia

 

A version of this information was also printed in the Crawfordville  Advocate-Democrat Dec. 5, 2003, pg 3 and
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childhood and general interest.

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http://www.gpc.edu/~heritage/storypage.htm

 

More readings on John Loyd Atkinson: George Washington Carver State Park