The San Diego Air & Space Museum has recently unveiled a new permanent exhibit called “Breaking Barriers.” The exhibit aims to honor the pioneering Black American aviators and astronauts who have made significant contributions throughout history. The “Breaking Barriers” exhibit is an inspirational display that will inspire and educate visitors about the remarkable achievements of these individuals.
“The San Diego Air & Space Museum is proud of its long history of honoring and recognizing the contributions of pioneering Black American aviators and astronauts, both through the exhibits in our museum and through the prestigious International Air & Space Hall of Fame,” said Jim Kidrick, president and CEO of the museum.
“The new `Breaking Barriers’ exhibit is a natural permanent extension of our longstanding salute to the Tuskegee Airmen through our P-51 Mustang, which is painted with their famous distinctive Red Tail Squadron design, as well as through the Black American innovating aviators we honor in the Hall of Fame on display at our museum every day.”
The museum has announced that the exhibit’s main attraction is an animatronic that looks like Benjamin Oliver Davis, Jr. The exhibit showcases the history of pioneering Black American aviators and astronauts. During World War II, Davis became the first Black American brigadier general in the United States Air Force and played a crucial role in integrating the Air Force.
Davis also created the Air Force Demonstration Squadron, popularly known as the Thunderbirds, while working at the Pentagon in 1953. In 1996, Davis was inducted into the prestigious International Air & Space Hall of Fame at the San Diego Air & Space Museum.
As per the information available on the Air Force website, the military honors and awards received include Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, Army Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters, and the Philippine Legion of Honor. He was a command pilot in the Air Force.
In addition to Brigadier General Davis, the men and women featured in the “Breaking Barriers” exhibit include:
— Vernice Armour: The first Black American woman naval aviator and first female combat aviator in the United States Marine Corps;
— James Herman Banning and his mechanic, Thomas Cox Allen: The first Black Americans to fly across the United States on October 9, 1932;
— Guion Stewart Bluford Jr.: The first Black American to travel to space on August 30, 1983;
— Janet Harmon Bragg: The first Black American woman to earn a commercial pilot’s license in 1942;
— Willa Beatrice Brown: The first Black American woman to earn a pilot’s license within the United States and the first Black American officer in the Civil Air Patrol;
— Eugene Jacques “James” Bullard: Flew for France during World War I, as the first Black American military pilot;
— Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman: The first Black American woman and first Indigenous American to receive a pilot’s license on June 15, 1921;
— Mae Carol Jemison: The first Black American woman to travel into space on September 12, 1992;
— Lloyd W. “Fig” Newton: The first Black American pilot in the United States Air Force Demonstration Squadron, known as the Thunderbirds; and
— William Jenifer Powell: A pioneering advocate of Black aviation in the United States.
The museum’s World War II Gallery is home to an exhibit and animatronic of Davis. The gallery proudly showcases a P-51 Mustang painted in the distinctive “Red Tail” Squadron design, which honors the United States Air Force’s first all-Black American squadron, the Tuskegee Airmen.