"Tuskegee Airmen Were Not Just Pilots"
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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,
Army Air Forces
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
Charles H. Atkinson
A version of this information was also printed in the Crawfordville Advocate-Democrat Dec. 5, 2003, pg 3 and
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