LONDONDERRY — When a young Howard Carter joined the Tuskegee Airmen just after World War II, he achieved his dream: to fly.
In the then-segregated U.S. Armed Forces, the Tuskegee program allowed hundreds of young African-Americans to serve as pilots and mechanics and in other aviation-related roles in all-black units.
After six years of piloting military transport missions in Japan, the Philippines and Guam, Carter left the service in the early 1950s.
He’d accumulated plenty of flight time, and like many service members of the era, planned to become a commercial airline pilot in the booming airline industry.
But despite his experience and record, Carter ran into the color barrier in place among U.S. airlines at the time.
He couldn’t get an interview.
Forced to yield his dream to discrimination, Carter took more earth-bound work at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston, and he further poured his passion for aviation into building elaborate large-scale model planes in the basement of his Boston home.
Over the years, Carter donated many of his gasoline-powered model planes to the Top Fun Aviation Toy Museum of Fitchburg, Mass., which is loaning the aircraft to the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire for an upcoming program and exhibit on the Tuskegee Airmen.
In honor of Black History Month, the program is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 9, at 11 a.m. at the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire, 27 Navigator Road, Londonderry. The planes will then remain on display for the remainder of the month.
Dr. Rosalie Dunbar, director of the Top Fun museum, will be on hand to speak of her friendship with Carter and provide historical perspective on the Tuskegee Airmen.
The program also features a presentation by the Col. Charles E. McGee Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc., based at Hanscom Air Force Base.
Members of the chapter will recount the Tuskegee story, displaying artifacts and presenting a video about the World War II exploits of storied units including the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group.
The chapter members will focus on the story of Carter, one of the few remaining Tuskegee Airmen with connections to New England.
By focusing on his life, organizers hope the program stirs attendees to contemplate the meaning of Black History Month.
“Howard’s planes are tangible evidence for his love of aviation, but also vivid symbols of the discrimination he and so many other African-American aviators faced in the mid-20th century,” said Jeff Rapsis, executive director of the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire. “We’re privileged to be able to display these unique artifacts in our museum in honor of Black History Month.”
“It’s our aim that putting Howard’s planes before the public will help us all fly above the stormy weather of discrimination,” Rapsis said.
The program will also include a look at how segregation was practiced at Manchester’s airfield in the 1940s, when it was Grenier Air Force Base.
Carter, 90, now resides in Florida and is unable to travel, so he will not be in attendance at the presentation. Organizers will attempt to include Carter via Skype.
The program is made possible in part by the Top Fun Aviation Museum; the Col. Charles E. McGee Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc.; and the Cogswell Benevolent Trust, based in Manchester.
The program is open to the public and is free with museum admission. For more information, visit www.aviationmuseumofnh.org.