A new exhibit at the St. Petersburg Museum of History highlights the struggles of young African-American men who sought to serve their country during World War II, well before the civil rights era.
The exhibit, titled "Fighting for the Right to Fight: African American Experiences in World War II," which opens Friday, is on loan from the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. The display illustrates how the right to fight has not always been equal among all Americans through artifacts, photos, oral histories and other ephemera. The exhibit marks the first time that the historical materials will be viewed outside their Louisiana home base.
Visitors will encounter stories about individuals, from the relatively obscure to better-known names. Members of the 332nd Fighter Group, known as the Tuskegee Airmen, were recorded recounting their individual stories on videotape; additionally, the show will feature two medals representing seven African-Americans awarded the Medal of Honor in 1997.
The awarding of medals in particular represented a turning point in the perception of African-Americans’ role in U.S. war history. At the turn of the 20th century, the nation officially observed “separate but equal” policies following the breakthrough case of Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896; yet leaders shunned African-Americans from serving in combat until war actually broke out.
Viewing hours for the “Fighting for the Right to Fight” exhibit will be from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets range from $9 to $15. The museum is located at 335 2nd Ave. NE, St. Petersburg.