Black Wings Exhibit and Book Collection

On September 23, 1982, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM) exhibit "Black Wings: The American Black in Aviation" opened as part of the existing "Pioneers of Aviation" exhibit located in Gallery 208 of the museum's National Mall Building in Washington, D.C. The exhibit was dedicated to the American Black Aviator, who anonymously played a historic role in shaping the growth of modern aviation. "Black Wings" encompasses the men and women who had to overcome enormous social pressures in order to gain the right to pursue the dream of flight in both civilian, military, and commercial circles. The exhibit generated much public and media interest, and inspired the Museum to sponsor a symposium on February 25, 1983, entitled "The American Black in Aviation, A Decade of Change: 1939-1949," (working title: "Tuskegee Airmen at War") featuring presentations by historians and U. S. Army Air Forces veterans including Noel F. Parrish (Commander, Tuskegee Army Air Field, 1942-1946), George F. Roberts (Commander, 99th Fighter Squadron, September 1943 to April 1944), and pilots Lewis A. Jackson, Elwood T. Driver, and Louis R. Purnell. In conjunction with the exhibit, the Museum, working with Sid Aaronson Films, Inc., produced a set of sound filmstrip packages designed for elementary and secondary school use. In 1983, the Smithsonian Institution Press published a companion book, Black Wings: The American Black in Aviation, authored by the exhibit's curators, Von Hardesty and Dominick Pisano; a second edition was issued the following year as part of the Smithsonian History of Aviation and Spaceflight series. A Smithsonian Institution Travelling Exhibition Service (SITES) version of the exhibit began circulating to other museums and venues in June 1983, and a expanded version of the SITES exhibit (featuring additional artifacts, photography, and audio-visual materials) was displayed April 1 to August 5, 1984, at the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum (later know as the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum) in Washington, D.C. The original NASM "Black Wings" exhibit—with occasional updates—remained on display in the "Pioneers of Flight" gallery (later renamed the "Barron Hilton Pioneers of Flight Gallery") until 2019 when the gallery was closed due to renovations to the Museum's National Mall Building.