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History, achievements of Tuskegee Airman and the “Shaw Fourteen” Airmen celebrated

  • Published
  • By Capt. Neil B. Samson
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
“The privileges of being an American belong to those brave enough to fight for them,” said U.S. Air Force Gen. (Ret.) Benjamin O. Davis, commander of the first all-black air unit, the Tuskegee Airmen in 1942.

More than twenty years later in 1963, Col. (Ret.) James Randall, another Tuskegee Airman, led 13 African American Airmen assigned to Shaw, and fought local segregation laws in their local school districts.

Those men, known as the “Shaw Fourteen” were celebrated during a special ceremony here at Shaw AFB, Feb. 13, 2019.

“As you listen to them, there are some many lessons that are applicable today, things that happened over 40 years ago,” said Col. Derek O’Malley, 20th Fighter Wing commander while presiding over the dedication ceremony at the Carolina Skies Club here. “We can never accept that the status quo is good enough, we can always be better, and just because the decision is hard, we can’t just walk by it; we can’t not make decisions because they are hard.

“That kind of perseverance is something Col. Randall taught us so well,” O’Malley continued. “That we make hard decisions no matter what. He taught us that over 40 years ago and I hope that is a lesson that we as a community will never forget.”

Dr. Randall Owens, U.S. Air Forces Central Command theater security cooperation directorate country desk officer, went on to talk about history and the importance of the contributions of Randall and the 13 Airmen.

“The second stanza of the U.S. Air Force’s Airman’s Creed says, ‘I am an American Airman; My mission is to Fly, Fight and Win; I am faithful to a Proud Heritage; A Tradition of Honor; and a Legacy of Valor,” said Owens, “For the 14 Airmen and families we honor today, those words are more than just a pledge, they describe a solemn call to action, to challenge injustice, whether far away or foreign skies or outside the front gate of Shaw AFB, South Carolina.

Owens said 14 Shaw Airmen confronted an unlawful practice through legal combat in 1963, but there were other numbers relevant to the context and content of the 14 Airmen’s historic undertaking.

“The first is 1954. As in the year the U.S. Supreme Court issued its pivotal ruling in the Brown v. Board of Education case, the Court proclaimed ‘In the field of public education, the doctrine of separate but equal has no place.’ This decree ended more than half a century of constitutional protection for racial segregation in public schools,” Owens continued.

Owens said one year after its rule the Supreme Court added a consequential, but imprecise deadline that placed no timeline on public school integration and led to many challenges, one of them happening here in Shaw-Sumter.

At that time here in Shaw-Sumter, Shaw Heights Elementary School served kindergarten through eighth grade and as a white family living on Shaw, your children went to Shaw Heights. If you were a black family on Shaw, your kids went to Dalzell School, a derelict, poorly maintained school.

Due to the unsatisfactory conditions of Sumter’s public education system, Randall served as lead plaintiff in the case Randall v. Sumter School District and he and 13 other African American Shaw Airmen armed with their team of four attorneys sought to discontinue segregation in Sumter school district in 1963.

“On 14 September 1963, then Maj. James Randall and his late wife Maryanne filed a federal civil suit on behalf of their three school-aged children.” added Owens.

“U.S. District Court Judge Robert W. Hemphill deliberated, and on 8 August 1964 ruled in favor of the plaintiffs,” said Owens. “Judge Hemphill’s decision leads to the next one, 11.”

“As in 11 African American children from Shaw AFB entering the doors of 3 previously segregated schools on 27 August 1964,” said Owens.

“Like so many Air Force families, the Randall’s presence at Shaw and in Sumter was transient, but nevertheless their impact on the two laboring communities was enduring,” added Owens. Indeed the Shaw Fourteen’s actions were remarkable. They embodied the Airman’s Creed by challenging injustice and fighting with honor.

“Their actions bringing in today’s final word—one. We are gathered here for one of the ‘Shaw Fourteen.’ Colonel (Retired) James Edward Preston Randall,” added Owens.

Randall could not be in attendance, but spoke to the audience in attendance via videoconferencing from his home in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“Thank you so much for being here with me to help me be here for the presentation of this plaque and hope it remains there as a reminder for those in attendance as to what took place to get it there and I hope it is there for a long, long time,” said Randall.

Randall, his then wife, and his three children: Roberta, Louise and William would not see their efforts come into fruition over more than 50 years ago, since they received permanent change of station orders to McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., but his son William, was in attendance in the audience and received honors on behalf of his father.

Following the conclusion of the ceremony O’Malley and Randall unveiled a historical state marker at Memorial Lake on Shaw AFB, in honor of Col. Randall and the other 13 Shaw Airmen.