BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Officials and community members are working to uncover the history of Black service members at Barksdale Air Force Base and better support Black members of the community.
In recent years, the Barksdale AFB African American Heritage Committee has brought more awareness to the community and worked to encourage Black service members to embrace their heritage.
“Representation does matter,” said AAHC President MSgt. Jamieson, “and we want to be the leaders that we needed as airmen. Just to be that helping hand that is needed at different stages in their career.”
The committee educates the community on Black history and issues facing Black airmen, and serves as a support structure to mentor and lead young service members. Through celebrating Black and African American culture, community, and open communication, they hope to support airmen and their families.
“We just want to empower and celebrate and make people comfortable with being Black in America, at Barksdale, and in the United States Air Force.”
Over the past year, the committee hosted several community events and outreach projects, including a deep dive into who Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was, why he was the most hated man in America, and what led to his assassination. Their first Juneteenth celebration took place last year, commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. The event offered food and games for families and educational information on the meaning of Juneteenth, which became a federal holiday in 2021.
Their largest event of the year, the Harlem Renaissance Gala, took place on Saturday. The community celebrated with food and dancing while the event highlighted the history of the Harlem Hellfighters.
In April, the committee will host a historically black college and university fair for the Month of the Military Child. Students on and off base can learn more about educational opportunities from historically Black fraternities, sororities, and ROTC representatives from 11 HBCUs.
“We want to show them that there’s so much more this world really can offer them,” said Jamieson. “There are schools that are just as traditional, just have enough pageantry and you can get just as much success in the world at an HBCU than you can really anywhere else.”
AAHC Treasurer Senior Airman Bryant says the committee allows him to speak with command chiefs and upper leadership about issues that affect him and other airmen.
“We’re trying to build up, not just the African American community, but the whole Barksdale community,” said Bryant. “Gain more confidence, learning more skills to put in your pocket to help benefit you, not just in the military, but in life.”
MSgt. Elerson, Vice President of the AAHC, says the committee allows them to influence how Black history is presented to the wing, not just during Black History Month but throughout the year.
Jamieson said, “You’re going to have Black airmen that you’re leading or are leading you. Knowing how to communicate with them through culture, through understanding where they come from, understanding that how the Air Force, how the world looks, through our lens is different than how someone who’s white or who’s Hispanic looks, and that’s ok.”
The committee says Barksdale leadership can help their community most by allowing uncomfortable conversations. They say everyone needs to work together to change things.
“We don’t aim to disparage. We don’t gossip,” Jamieson said. “We try to do our research. The base historian has been phenomenal with helping us with clearing and un-muddying these waters because a lot of it’s uncomfortable, and we want people to be comfortable to talk about it to learn about it.”
“It’s an African American Heritage Committee, but it’s open to everybody,” he adds.
AAHC Senior Advisor SMSgt. Jones says they share everything they do with leadership to ensure the committee’s plans and goals are clear.
As elections approach, MSgt. Elerson hopes the new council will come in strong and maintain the momentum they have made.
“Consistency is truly the real foundation of what’s going to keep this committee moving the way that it has been over the course of the past year.”
Second Bomb Wing Historian Adrian Askins Wise works closely with the AAHC, documenting and researching the experiences of black service members. During her time at Barksdale, she has learned several interesting stories about the history of black airmen.
“One of the most recent ones that I came across has to do with the fact that Barksdale began celebrating Black History Week four years before President Gerald Ford proclaimed it as an item of national interest. It turns out that the first celebration of Black History Week was at the base library and that it was at the initiative of the local community and not necessarily an installation’s initiative.”
Wise asserts the history of black service members is integral to the wing, base history, and American history. She is working with the AAHC to research Barksdale’s undocumented stories.
“We’re all discovering the history at once because it’s something that’s just not out there and easy to research or find.”
She hopes local community members who served, or had family members who served, can provide photos or stories to be preserved as part of the base’s history. Wise says much of that history wasn’t documented, and there wasn’t always a historian on staff to keep records of those experiences.
In Hoban Hall, also considered Barksdale’s heritage hall, she says there’s only one image on the walls of a black airman and only a single photo of a woman.
Wise would like to see the diversity of the population in the bases’ heritage displays and histories.