African-American aviation pioneer to be honored by US postal service

In a significant move that brings to the forefront African-American aviation pioneers, the first-ever U.S. postal stamp honoring Tuskegee Airmen is due to be issued this month.

The definitive stamp, which immortalizes aviation trailblazer Charles Alfred Anderson, Sr., goes on sale nationwide March 13.

The 70-cent, First-Class Mail, two-ounce rate stamp, by artist and illustrator Sterling Hundley, will be unveiled next Thursday at a dedication ceremony at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.

It is part of the Distinguished Americans series, which since 2000 has honored people such as actor José Ferrer, athlete Wilma Rudolph, and scientist Jonas Salk. The Chief Anderson stamp is the fifteenth in the series.

C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson, also known as the “father of black aviation” was selected because he was “a pioneer in aviation who played a crucial role during World War II in training the nation’s first black military pilots, the Tuskegee Airmen,” says USPS regional spokesman Ray V. Daiutolo Sr.

In fact, when Anderson earned his air transport license in 1932, he was the only black American in the country qualified to serve as a flight instructor or to fly commercially. Later he because the first-ever American to successfully land an airplane in the Bahamas.

During the Second World War, Anderson, affectionately known as “Chief,” was the lead instructor of the Tuskegee Airmen. He would go on to develop a rigorous training program that not only pushed the limits of aviation but also challenged the widespread belief that blacks didn’t have the ability, intelligence or coordination to fly.

Anderson is also well known as the pilot who flew Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of then-U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The 40-minute flight helped boost the importance of the Tuskegee Experiment and convinced the First Lady to encourage her husband to authorize military flight training at Tuskegee.

Roscoe Draper, a surviving Tuskegee airman, worked alongside “Chief” as a civilian flight instructor at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in the 1940s. The spirited 95-year-old is scheduled to attend next week’s ceremony.

“He went to unbelievable ends to prove to the world that they were wrong in their assumption that black people couldn’t fly,” says Draper.

“He deserves all the praise and accolades he can get because he went through a lot to get his certification. He couldn’t get anyone to teach him [because of racial discrimination] so he bought an airplane and taught himself.”

As a matter of fact, Anderson’s steely determination nearly killed him. “He crashed two planes,” trying to teach himself to fly, says granddaughter Christina Anderson, who spearheads the C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson Foundation, a non-profit to keep the legacy of her “grandpa” alive.

His youngest son, Charles Alfred Anderson Jr., 65, says what makes the stamp so meaningful is the journey to bring it to life was unsolicited. The United States Postal Service approached him some four to five years ago and the rest is history.

“What’s so significant is that the post office did their research and decided to honor my father as the face of the Tuskegee Airmen,” says Anderson Jr.

Anderson says up until now her late grandfather has never received the recognition he deserves, although she admits this was in part due to his unassuming character and desire to keep out of the limelight. Anderson, who died in 1996, never sought fame, recognition or fortune for his accomplishments.

The first day of issue ceremony on March 13 will be followed by a ticketed benefit concert, hosted by comedian Rodney Perry, with performances by 2-time Grammy Award nominee Eric Roberson, among others.

Despite the commitment of the Postal Service, the Anderson family is footing the majority of bill for both the ceremony and evening concert.  Christina Anderson says they have launched a fundraising campaign to make the day a success.

Stamp collectors and interested parties are expected travel to Bryn Mawr College on March 13, which will be the only place where the “First Day of Issue” postmark is used.

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