Fighting for the Right to Fight: African American Experiences in World War II, Opens at the St. Petersburg Museum of History
Exhibit Explores Challenges and Triumphs of African Americans During War Era
ST. PETERSBURG, FL (October 14, 2016) – Before the Civil Rights marches of the 1950s and 1960s, there were a group of young African American men who fought for equality, and the right to defend their country.
On October 28, the stories of these exceptional men will be shared in the Sunshine City as the St. Petersburg Museum of History opens Fighting for the Right to Fight: African American Experiences in World War II.
On loan from the National WWII Museum, the exhibit features artifacts, photographs and oral histories to highlight some of the extraordinary achievements and challenges of African Americans during World War II, both overseas and on the Home Front.
This is the first time the exhibit has been seen outside its home in New Orleans.
“We are honored to be the first museum in America to share such an important, and untold piece of our nation’s history,” said Executive Director Rui Farias. “This amazing exhibit explains how a piece of the largest global conflict ever was played out at home.”
Fighting for the Right to Fight illustrates how hopes for securing equality inspired many to enlist, the discouraging reality of the segregated non-combat roles given to black recruits, and the continuing fight for “Double Victory” that laid the groundwork for the modern Civil Rights Movement.
Through a myriad of interactive experiences, visitors will discover the wartime stories of individuals who took part in this journey of extraordinary challenge, from unheralded heroes to famous names, including Alex Haley (US Coast Guard); Sammy Davis Jr. (US Army); Benjamin Davis, Jr. (US Army Air Forces); Medgar Evers (US Army) and more.
The centerpiece of the exhibit is an original eight-minute video about the famed 332nd Fighter Group (better known as the Tuskegee Airmen), who in many ways became the public focus of African American participation during the war. The piece is narrated by television personality Robin Roberts, whose own father flew with the Tuskegee Airmen during the war.
Including personal accounts from members of the 332nd Fighter Group, the video provides an overview of how their success in battle became a great symbol of bravery, helping refute notions that African Americans were inferior performers in the military, especially in roles requiring advanced training.
Additionally, Fighting for the Right to Fight will feature two medals representing the seven African Americans who were awarded the Medal of Honor in 1997, the bittersweet result of a long investigation
by the US military on discriminatory policies in the awarding of combat medals. The exhibit will also provide in-depth coverage of lesser-known events and service, such as that of the USS Mason, the first American ship to have a predominately African American crew.
In the years before World War II, African Americans in many parts of the country were treated as second-class citizens. Discriminatory practices were condoned by the government, and African Americans were systematically denied many rights and liberties by laws that kept them in positions of inferiority. Due to the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision in 1896, the United States was a nation where “separate but equal” was law in many states. In addition, many military leaders declared African Americans unfit to serve in combat. However, once the war began, thousands rushed to enlist, determined to fight for freedom, while still being denied equality at home.
WHAT: Exhibit opening – Fighting for the Right to Fight: African American Experiences in WWII
WHEN: Exhibit opens Friday, October 28
WHERE: St. Petersburg Museum of History, 335 2nd Avenue NE, St. Pete, 33701
HOURS: Monday-Saturday 10am to 5pm Sunday Noon to 5pm
TICKETS: $15 to $9
The St. Petersburg Museum of History has been sharing Stories of the Sunshine City for nearly a century along the scenic and historic downtown waterfront. SPMOH hosts year-round temporary exhibitions such as Fighting for the Right to Fight, and is also home to permanent exhibitions such as the world’s largest collection of autographed baseballs, “Schrader’s Little Cooperstown,” and Flight One Gallery, where guests can explore the world’s first airliner and the birth of commercial aviation.
For more information, check out www.SPMOH.org
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world – why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today – so that future generations will know the price of freedom, and be inspired by what they learn. Dedicated in 2000 in New Orleans as The National D-Day Museum and now designated by Congress as America’s National WWII Museum, it celebrates the American Spirit, the teamwork, optimism, courage and sacrifices of the men and women who fought on the battlefront and served on the Home Front.
Contact: Rui Farias, Executive Director
Contact: Nevin Sitler, Education Director and Curator