Spriggs to bring ‘Tuskegee Airmen’ history to library
Sharing the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, and their vital role in helping to end segregation in the United States Armed Forces, has given Ron Spriggs a purpose in retirement. During an upcoming program at the Woodford County Library on Thursday, Feb. 23, at 6:30 p.m., Spriggs will share stories about the Tuskegee Airmen and a connection to Versailles. Noel F. Parrish was born here and trained black aviators in the unit. The Tuskegee Airmen faced discrimination when they were organized in 1941 as this country’s first all African-American aviation squadron. These men of color were also dedicated to helping preserve democracy in America during World War II. “They were accomplished. They were determined. They were patriots. They were free men. They wanted to serve. And they had the determination to do it,” said Spriggs, who served in the United States Air Force for eight years. The Lexington resident said he started the Ron Spriggs Exhibit of Tuskegee Airmen in December 2002 because he wanted to educate others about these African-American combat pilots who served their country during World War II. An HBO movie had sparked his interest in starting a small, traveling exhibit to ensure others would not forget about the contributions of the Tuskegee Airmen and their ground support personnel. “We pay a lot of attention to the dash and romance of the pilot with the flying scarf and goggles, but just as important – if not more important – were the ground support people,” said Spriggs. He started doing his own independent research after visiting the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, and being “a little disheartened” by what he didn’t see in terms of “who and what the Tuskegee Airmen were.” Spriggs said he got to meet a handful of the original Tuskegee Airmen in 2003 during a Centennial Celebration of Flight at the National Museum in Dayton, which opened an expanded Tuskegee Airmen exhibit in its World War II Gallery in 2015. He also had the privilege to serve as an escort for one of the Tuskegee Airmen honored during a special ceremony at the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama, Spriggs said he no longer travels across Kentucky and beyond its borders with his traveling exhibit of Tuskegee Airmen memorabilia, but continues to share the Tuskegee legacy at speaking engagements in schools, libraries and other venues. His recent talk at the Bluegrass Heritage Museum in Winchester drew a capacity audience. “I never get bored,” said Spriggs of his talks, “and I learn new stuff every day.” His collection of books, videos and memorabilia became an exhibit that grew after travels to the Aviation Museum of Kentucky at Blue Grass Airport, the VA Medical Center in Louisville and elsewhere, before finding a permanent home at the Aviation Museum. The Woodford County Library’s upcoming program, “The History of the Tuskegee Airmen,” happens at the close of the 75th anniversary of the aviation squadron’s formation. To sign up for the free library program, made possible with additional funding from the Kentucky Humanities Council, call 873-5191.