A new “Breaking Barriers” permanent exhibit honoring pioneering Black American aviators and astronauts throughout history is debuting at the San Diego Air & Space Museum on Oct. 13, 2023.
“The San Diego Air & Space Museum is proud of its long history of honoring and recognizing the contributions of pioneering Black American aviators and astronauts, both through the exhibits in our museum and through the prestigious International Air & Space Hall of Fame,” said Jim Kidrick, president and CEO of the museum. “The new ‘Breaking Barriers’ exhibit is a natural permanent extension of our long-standing salute to the Tuskegee Airmen through our P-51 Mustang, which is painted with their famous distinctive Red Tail Squadron design, as well as through the Black American innovating aviators we honor in the Hall of Fame on display at our museum every day.”
The centerpiece of the “Breaking Barriers” exhibit is an animatronic featuring Benjamin Oliver Davis, Jr. exploring the history of pioneering Black American aviators and astronauts. Davis became the first Black American brigadier general in the United States Air Force during World War II and was instrumental in integrating the Air Force.
While working at the Pentagon, he created the Air Force Demonstration Squadron, known as the Thunderbirds, in 1953.
Davis was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame at the San Diego Air & Space Museum in 1996.
In addition to Davis, the men and women featured in the “Breaking Barriers” exhibit include:
- Vernice Armour: The first Black American female naval aviator and first female combat aviator in the Marine Corps.
- James Herman Banning and his mechanic, Thomas Cox Allen: The first Black Americans to fly across the United States on Oct. 9, 1932.
- Guion Stewart Bluford Jr.: The first Black American to travel to space on Aug. 30, 1983.
- Janet Harmon Bragg: The first Black American female to earn a commercial pilot’s license in 1942.
- Willa Beatrice Brown: The first Black American female to earn a pilot’s license within the United States and the first Black American officer in the Civil Air Patrol.
- Eugene Jacques (James) Bullard: Who flew for France during World War I as the first Black American military pilot.
- Elizabeth (Bessie) Coleman: The first Black American female and first Indigenous American to receive a pilot’s license on June 15, 1921. (Coleman was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame in 2014.)
- Mae Carol Jemison: The first Black American female to travel into space on Sept. 12, 1992.
- Lloyd W. (Fig) Newton: The first Black American pilot in the United States Air Force Demonstration Squadron known as the Thunderbirds. (Newton was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame in 2018.)
- William Jenifer Powell: A pioneering advocate of Black aviation in the United States.
The “Breaking Barriers” exhibit and animatronic of Brigadier General Davis are located in the Museum’s World War II Gallery, which displays a P-51 Mustang painted in the Tuskegee Airmen’s distinctive “Red Tail” Squadron design to honor the United States Air Force’s first all-Black American squadron.
For more information: SanDiegoAirAndSpace.org