Hattiesburg man preserves Tuskegee Airmen history through artwor - KSLA News 12 Shreveport, Louisiana News Weather & Sports

Hattiesburg man preserves Tuskegee Airmen history through artwork and speeches

JACKSON, MS (WLBT) -

You've probably heard of the storied Tuskegee Airmen but if you haven't, there's a Mississippian who is on a mission to make sure everyone knows who they are and what they did for America in World War II.

They were the Tuskegee Airmen, America's first black pilot unit fighting in World War II, also known as the Red Tails and if you've ever wondered how they got that name, just ask Clint Martin.

"Well, they went to the paint depot, looking for some paint to actually paint the airplanes up in the color they so choose," said Martin. "They only had red and this is how they became known as the Red Tails."

Clinard "Clint" Martin, born in McComb, retired from the military and a dentistry practice in California and is now back in Mississippi where he calls Hattiesburg home.

Aviation was his first love. He planned to be a pilot.

"Come to find out, I was born with a hole in my inner right ear and I could not qualify for high altitude flying," explained Martin. "But I was always a fanatic about airplanes."

Martin also had a flare for art when he was a youngster in McComb, but he said art school opportunities were not available for him back then.

After retirement, Martin found a way to combine both loves, teaching himself to paint his favorite subject and setting out on a mission to keep the legacy of the Red Tails alive. Inspiration for that coming from, among other things, the fact that his uncle Walter Downs was an original Red Tail fighter pilot.

"So, I decided that I would do something for these guys that never received the accolades that were do to them for all of the things that they actually had to deal with to actually become a pilot." said Martin.

Things like the dangers the airmen faced at home, well before they ever went into combat.

"The white community in the deep south used to shoot at these guys while they were up there trying to learn their way to fly. I have proof of that," said Martin. "They chose Tuskegee, Alabama to train black pilots because of the racism stuff, they would have better control over these guys, but these guys was highly educated. According to the history books, they had the highest IQ of any pilot that flew during World War II."

And, said Martin, they were fierce fighters, striking fear in the enemy.

"Oh, the Germans didn't like them guys," explained Martin. "Well, they were not afraid of putting their lives on the line, plus the fact the training that they received."

His attention to detail, historical accuracy in his paintings and his knowledge earned him a film credit in the HBO movie, Tuskegee Airmen, as a consultant.

Martin's artwork is displayed in a variety of venues from Camp Shelby to the Pentagon and a fast food restaurant in Hattiesburg.

Martin is so passionate about his mission that he wanted to make sure at least some of his artwork is featured in a place like the Mississippi State Capitol and guess what -- it is."

"It's hard to say no to this guy," said State Senator John Horhn. "And people don't realize it, but there are a lot of Mississippians who were members of Tuskegee Air Corps. They left Mississippi to attend Tuskegee Institute and they were among some of the best and brightest men in America."

Now Martin's artwork is about to make a trip to New York where it will be featured in West Point's new General Benjamin O. Davis Barracks.

Davis was the legendary West Point graduate and leader of the Red Tails and a man who Martin had the pleasure of meeting. 

"If what I'm doing is being accepted by the public's eye and the public masses, I'd be happy with that," said Martin. "If I can encourage some young people to go into aviation or become an artist of whatever persuasion, that would be fine with me. For the simple fact is, you have to do something in this world to make it better. I call myself doing that now."

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