Changing the course of inequality through flight

COLUMBIA (WACH) -- From the looks of a crowded room at the Jim Hamilton Airport, one would probably think that people were waiting to get an autograph from a Hollywood celebrity.

There were no members of the "A-list" at the front of the room, but instead two of the original Tuskegee Airmen sat ready to tell their stories.

An event hosted by the Richland County Council Saturday afternoon brought the airmen to the Jim Hamilton Airport Terminal.

The men talked about their personal history coming to life in the recent movie, Red Tails.

â??I was never a hero. I never want to be portrayed as a hero,â?? says James McClain, an original Tuskegee Airmen.

He was born and raised in New York. McClain says he wanted to become a pilot after spending time with Amelia Earhart. One of his teachers was a good friend of hers.

â??On Saturdays Amelia would take the class out to Floyd Bennett Field and take them up for flights,â?? says McClain.

McClain ultimately enrolled in the service at the time blacks were believed to be incompetent and could not fly.

A window of opportunity was opened to African Americans through an Army Air Force program that would train African Americans to fly and maintain combat.

It was dubbed the "Tuskegee Airmen.â??

McClain says he flew a P51 mustang. He was also part of the 15th Air Force and a was pre-flight inspector for B-25â??s.

The event brought in hundreds of people including David Gray, a pilot for American Airlines.

â??It makes me proud to be associated with these guys because coming up as a kid during the 60s and 70s segregation was just ending,â?? said Gray.

McClain says he saw the movie Red Tails and it does a good job at being close to the truth.

â??The covering of the wing man when the fellow got shot. When we came back to the states fully dressed and we were denied the opportunity to come into a club on a base; it was more than a fight,â?? said McClain.

Gray says it's because of men like McClain that he got the opportunity to fly the friendly skies.

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