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By Harry A. Sheppard

Tuskegee Airmen, who had settled across the country after World War II, felt a need to re-establish and maintain old friendships and associations with those who had endured and survived the ordeal of the “Tuskegee Experience”.  Accordingly, the known groups of these individuals who lived in the Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit areas conceived and staged several reunions.

A growing group in Detroit contacted a group in the Washington, DC area with the aim of continuing the annual reunion activity, with Washington assuming the role of host for a 1973 event.  Receiving a favorable response, a delegation from Detroit met with a representative group Washington, DC.  The members of the visiting delegation were Alexander Jefferson, Henry Peoples, Wardell Polk, Nate Carr, and Richard Jennings.  The local group was comprised of John J. Suggs, Bill Broadwater, George Iles, “Chuck” Walker, Richard S. Harder, Ira J. O’Neal, Willie Ashley, Gwynne Pierson, Kenneth White, George Haley, James Hurd, Spann Watson, Curtis C. Robinson, and Harry A. Sheppard joined by several others from the area.  Following a detailed discussion of the needs, requirements and challenges encountered in previous reunions, the Washington, DC group was undeterred.  When asked to host by the Detroit delegation, the answer was “Yes!”

The decision having been made, John Suggs was selected to lead the effort.  Among the numerous tasks was the job of designing a meaningful program for the participants, which was assigned to “Rip” Harder, George Iles and “Chuck” Walker.  Early on they decided that, for stability and effective leadership, the creation of a central national body was an absolute requirement.  So, a plan was drafted to partition the 48 contiguous states into three functioning regions and to elect a full slate of officers with a structure designed to weld the organization into a cohesive and effective unit.

Spann Watson, G.L. Washington and a local attorney set about drafting a Constitution. Lawyer Martin, president of Evaluation Technologies, Inc. (ETI) furnished the professional talents of James Bullock, an excellent liaison and entrepreneurial consultant who exerted a tremendously successful effort to establish rapport with and cooperation of the DC government.

There was a frenzy of activity as we gathered a list containing the last known address and phone number of all identifiable Tuskegee military, civilian, men and women.  Seed money to launch the project was obtained from 40 charter members.  It was decided at that time that our distinguishing dress code would be red jackets (blazers) to commemorate the “Redtails” legacy.

Since there was quite a population of “Tuskegee Experience” persons along the Eastern seaboard from North Carolina to Maine, we accepted the applications for membership from all who applied and named ourselves the East Coast Chapter.  The weekly meetings were meaningful and productive.  The East Coast Chapter Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. was officially established in May 1973.

The Reunion program was solidified, with a number of business and social sessions, to terminate with the first election, a banquet and installation of National officers.  Two principal session were scheduled for all attendees:  Friday evening’s event, a “Memory Lane” program under emcee Ira J. O’Neal, featuring a historical account of the ”Tuskegee Experience” presented by USAF Major Alan J. Groupman, Assistant Professor of History.  The Saturday night windup banquet’s keynote speaker was USAF Brigadieer General Lucius Theus, with Col. Harry A. Sheppard as emcee.

The Friday morning, after the welcoming remarks and recognition of prominent and successful members, “Rip” Harder gave a detailed description of the objectives and the time allotment for the key items.  When he got to the portions that dealt with division of the country and election of national officers, John Sloane asked that the reunion be immediately recognized as an converted to convention status.  “Rip” Harder agreed and requested that the matter be considered, seconded and voted upon.  It was seconded and unanimously approved, whereupon, the birth of the first Tuskegee Airman convention occurred Sunday, 12 August 1973.

The election, held on Sunday morning produced John J. Suggs as the first “National Commander”; Kenneth J. White as Vice-Commander; Harry A. Sheppard as Secretary; Curtis Robinson as Treasurer; James A. Hurd as Business manager.  Three vice presidents were elected, Charles J. Williams for the Eastern Region, Nathaniel Carr for the Central Region; and Charles Bussey for the Western Region; as were Executive Secretary Claude Dixon, Treasurer James Hurd, Parliamentarian A.A. Rayney, Historian Wentz Perkins, and an Executive Board comprising all elected officers plus three members from each Region.

The TAI National filed for incorporation in DC on February 21, 1975 and the Certificate of incorporation was presented on February 25, 1975.


P.O. Box 8234
Washington, DC 20032-8234

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