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Florida lawmakers push to make Tuskegee Airmen Commemoration Day a legal holiday

Tuskegee Airmen William Fauntroy, left, and William Wilson, tour the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011. The Memorial opens to the public in late August. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
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AP
Tuskegee Airmen William Fauntroy, left, and William Wilson, tour the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011. The Memorial opens to the public in late August. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

A bill (SB 1312) to honor the Tuskegee Airmen is moving forward in Florida.

A bill to honor the Tuskegee Airmen is moving forward in Florida. State Senator Victor Torres (D-Kissimmee) proposed the legislation that would designate 'Tuskegee Airmen Commemoration Day' a legal holiday in Florida.

The measure (SB 1312) was approved by a Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security committee Monday.

“The Tuskegee airmen have received numerous awards and medals for their combat bravery and service over the years," Torres said to the committee. "Many notable Floridians have received honors for their contributions over the last decade.”

Second Lt. Gabe C. Hawkins, second from right, an Army instruction teacher, looks over a map before taking his students on a cross-country trip at Tuskegee, Ala., on Sept. 5, 1942. The cadets are being trained to join the first black combat unit in the U.S. Army Air Corps. (AP Photo)
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Second Lt. Gabe C. Hawkins, second from right, an Army instruction teacher, looks over a map before taking his students on a cross-country trip at Tuskegee, Ala., on Sept. 5, 1942. The cadets are being trained to join the first black combat unit in the U.S. Army Air Corps. (AP Photo)

The Tuskegee Airmen, America's first Black military aviators, patrolled the skies of Europe during the Second World War. Segregated units learned to fly planes at an all-black flying school in Tuskegee, Alabama. But there were also thousands who trained in Florida, becoming full time pilots, navigators, and bombers; in the 1940s.

The purpose of the bill would be to honor the legacy for their military service and their contributions towards Black civil rights. Sen. Torres said that the airmen have been honored in the past.

“A similar bill was approved in prior years, but it only designated the commemorative day for that year. This bill will establish this day going forward every year in perpetuity.”

Tuskegee Airmen National Museum President Brian Smith is photographed next to a trainer, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023, at the Coleman A. Young airport in Detroit. The museum also operates the Tuskegee Airmen Flight Academy, a program designed for youth ages 14-19 who want to become professional pilots. It offers year-round flight instruction and ground school classes leading to a private pilot license. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
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AP
Tuskegee Airmen National Museum President Brian Smith is photographed next to a trainer, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023, at the Coleman A. Young airport in Detroit. The museum also operates the Tuskegee Airmen Flight Academy, a program designed for youth ages 14-19 who want to become professional pilots. It offers year-round flight instruction and ground school classes leading to a private pilot license. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Florida’s Tuskegee Airmen broke many racial barriers during the 1940s, but also faced discrimination. Daniel Keel, a Florida native, and one of the original members of the Tuskegee airmen, spoke at a public symposium in Polk City back in 2012.

“One, we could not eat in the officers’ mess," said Keel. "We could not go in the officers’ club. If we go to the base theater, we couldn’t sit in the officers’ section. If we go to town, we had to ride in the back of the bus.”

Stories from Tuskegee airmen continue to be heard across the country in novels and films. The bill designates the fourth Thursday in March as Tuskegee Airmen Commemoration Day. The holiday, however, will not be a paid day off.

SB 1312 has two more stops before it takes the Senate floor. A similar bill has been filed in the House.

Adrian Andrews is a multimedia journalist with WFSU Public Media. He is a Gadsden County native and a first-generation college graduate from Florida A&M University. Adrian is also a military veteran, ending his career as a Florida Army National Guard Non-Comissioned Officer.

Adrian has experience in print writing, digital content creation, documentary, and film production. He has spent the last four years on the staff of several award-winning publications such as The Famuan, Gadsden County News Corp, and Cumulus Media before joining the WFSU news team.