Our subscribers, viewers, and audiences often hear us share how extraordinary this land is, which is very true. However, with all great achievements comes a past that helped lead the present to that point and that past deserves to be recognized. One of these great historical events is finally being distinguished right here in our community and we couldn’t be more excited. In case you didn’t know, Champaign County’s Chanute Air Field played a major role in WWII and was a trailblazer for racial equality in the process.
"In 1941 St. Louis was designated as the first site for training Black Fighter Pilots. However the St. Louis community leaders refused to permit Black pilots to fly in St. Louis airspace. Detroit was then designated to house the training, but Detroit also refused to allow Blacks to fly in their space”.
In the face of racial injustice and inequality, Champaign County leaders supported Chanute Air Field in its request to train these men. Chanute Air Field opened its doors to a group of patriots who wanted to serve and we gave them the resources to do so.
These men transferred to Moton Field in Tuskegee, Alabama where they continued their training. Integrated training for weathermen, armorers, fire fighters and mechanics was retained at the Rantoul Air Base before the armed services were actually integrated. During one of the most monumental air assaults on March 24, 1945 three of these Chanute trained men shot down three German jets. Pilots Charles Brantly, Earl Lane and Roscoe Brown were the first American pilots to shoot down an enemy jet fighter! This action earned the 332nd Fighter Group a Distinguished Unit Citation and rightfully so.
These men since then have been known as the Tuskegee Airmen, but it was here in Champaign County where they began their fighter pilot training and journey. Today, we are known as a community of inclusivity and embracement. We credit this event to have helped Champaign County become what it is today -a place where differences are embraced and we all live and work as a cohesive unit, not a community where segregation and social injustice runs rampant.
After 75 years Champaign County, with the heroic actions of Chanute Air Field, celebrates its distinguishing as the Birthplace of the Tuskegee Airmen! It is expected that only 14 of the original 950 Chanute trained men are alive to this day. That’s why history is so special…it lives as long as the story is told. The “Friends of the Tuskegee Airmen” proposed to the State of Illinois to place highway markers at entrances to the county to better help tell this defining story for years to come, in lieu of the Octave Chanute Aerospace Museum closure. These signs will distinguish this county as the “Birthplace of the Tuskegee Airmen” something we welcome all of you to help commemorate. The Illinois National Guard Armory is hosting a celebration on Thursday, March 24 at 11:00 a.m. Following the event, Champaign County engineers will install the “Birthplace of the Tuskegee Airmen March 1941” signs on all US and IL highways entering Champaign County.
Our history is incredibly important and it deserves to be told and relished in. We can’t think of anything better to celebrate than heroism, social justice, and equality. After all, these things greatly contribute to the Outside of Ordinary experience of the Greater Champaign Area, today.