Advance Notice: Briefs

Statue of late Tuskegee Airman Alexander Jefferson commissioned in Detroit

By: - September 29, 2022 7:01 am

Carlota Almanza-Lumpkin at the viewing for Alexander Jefferson, June 22, 2022 | Ken Coleman photo

A local panel has chosen the artist to create the Detroit statue of the late Tuskegee Airman Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson. 

It will anchor the plaza also named for the African-American war hero at Rouge Park. Jefferson, longtime city resident, died in June at age 100. 

Austen Brantley | city of Detroit

Austen Brantley, a self-taught, Detroit ceramic sculptor was chosen from a national field of applicants. He has previously completed statues of Negro Leagues baseball player Ernest Burke in Havre De Grace, Md., and civil rights hero Viola Liuzzo in Detroit.

“Detroit is proud to honor one of our great heroes and to give an opportunity to a Detroit artist to create a permanent tribute to his service,” said Rochelle Riley, city of Detroit director of arts and culture who convened the judging panel.

The statue, made possible by the generosity of Cynthia and Edsel Ford II on behalf of the Henry Ford II Fund, will anchor the new Jefferson Plaza at Rouge Park, where Jefferson flew model airplanes as a boy.  

The city of Detroit dedicated the plaza site last November on Jefferson’s 100th birthday. He was joined by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing), U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) and fellow Tuskegee Airmen.

Jefferson was sworn into the U.S. Army Reserve in 1942. Called up for flight training in April 1943, Jefferson received orders to report to Tuskegee Army Airfield to begin flight training. 

With his training complete, he was assigned to the 332nd “Red Tail” Fighter group, a racially segregated unit, at Ramitelli Airfield near Foggia, Italy. He was assigned to a fighter escort wing duty protecting bombing missions. Jefferson’s job was to attack key ground targets and guard bombing missions against enemy Nazi Luftwaffe fighters. 

In 1995, Jefferson was enshrined in the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame. In 2001, he was awarded the Purple Heart. Jefferson was one of the founders of the Detroit and National chapters of the Tuskegee Airmen. 

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.