Six Tuskegee Airmen — who fought in WWII and fought racism — hailed from Beltzhoover, and a community group there now wants to honor the veterans with a public art project.
Quincy Jones, a lifelong Beltzhoover resident and president of the Beltzhoover Neighborhood Council, dreams of a stone mosaic with a plaque near the entrance McKinley Park honoring the community’s Tuskegee Airmen, along with a trail named in their honor, which would bear banners or flags featuring photos of the airmen.
Western Pennsylvania represented the largest contingent of Tuskegee Airmen, WTAE reported in 2013 when memorials to the airmen were unveiled at Pittsburgh International Airport and in Sewickley. In a racially segregated U.S. military at the time, nearly 100 airmen from the region served as the first black pilots, navigators and support crew, fighting in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II, the station reported.
Six of those men called Beltzhoover home. James Cotten and Robert Lucas are the remaining two, while the other four of the community’s six Tuskegee Airmen have passed away.
“They were fighting to combat racism and fighting to be treated equal in the U.S.,” Jones said.
Senior citizens in the neighborhood originally told Jones about the idea for a mural or memorial honoring the community’s Tuskegee Airmen, and Jones took it on as a passion project.
“It’s been on my heart because I work with the seniors and once they pour out their stories, you really get a relationship with them,” Jones said. “They were just beating it it my head, we need a memorial.”
The person who suggested the idea has since died, and Jones said he wants the idea to live on. He envisions the mosaic as a community art project, where anybody could contribute, and he said he’s already heard support from the community.
“This project is a pure reflection of our neighborhood because we have Tuskegee Airmen in our neighborhood,” Jones said. “We want our public art projects to reflect our community.”
It’s estimated that the group would need $5,000 to make the project a reality. You can donate on community crowdfunding site In our Backyards. As of Friday, the project had raised $205 in advance of an April 15 funding deadline.
In addition to honoring the airmen, the project could also bring attention to Beltzhoover, Jones said.
“This would be a start of drawing people to our neighborhood — to show people that we’re over here and we’re making a lot of things happen in this neighborhood,” Jones said, noting that the Hilltop communities don’t get a lot of support. “It’s always hard to get people’s attention. They say you guys are last in line. I’m trying to change that narrative. We’re making moves.”
Among its other projects, the Beltzhoover Neighborhood Council, a volunteer community service group, provides food for senior citizens, hosts an art program and is planning a community day event.
In addition to the vision for the parkside tribute, McKinley Park is in the midst of upgrades after the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy netted a competitive $437,500 grant from the National Recreation and Park Association and American Planning Association.
The project focuses on green infrastructure, said Erin Tobin, community outreach coordinator for the parks conservancy. The conservancy is working to add amenities to the park, like a picnic shelter, a slide and an ADA accessible trail.
The conservancy is interested in partnering with the community on the memorial project in the future, as well, she said.