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Black history comes to life at Peterson

21st Space Wing Black History Month celebration Peterson Air Force Base historical figures America

DeMarcus Hysten, volunteer actor, impersonates rock ‘n’ roll legend Chuck Berry during the Black History Month celebration on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Feb. 22, 2018. Actors portrayed various historical figures to share how their platforms brought the struggles of black people in America to the forefront. (U.S. Air Force photo by David Meade)

21st Space Wing Black History Month celebration Peterson Air Force Base historical figures America

SrA Tanya Davis portrays Mary McLeod Bethune during the Black History Month celebration on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Feb. 22, 2018. Actors portrayed various historical figures to share how their platforms brought the struggles of black people in America to the forefront. (U.S. Air Force photo by David Meade)

21st Space Wing Black History Month celebration Peterson Air Force Base historical figures America

Col. Todd Moore, 21st Space Wing commander, provides closing remarks during the Black History Month celebration on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Feb. 22, 2018. Actors portrayed various historical figures to share how their platforms brought the struggles of black people in America to the forefront. (U.S. Air Force photo by David Meade)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

February is Black History Month and every year Airmen recognize the historical contributions that Black Americans have made in every endeavor throughout American history. This year volunteers brought historical figures back to life with a musical production.

Songs from Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley rang out from the ballroom of The Club on Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, Feb. 22, 2018. The songs were part of a performance that highlighted the struggles of Black Americans in the military as post-Civil War Buffalo Soldiers and those who fought in Vietnam. Actors also took the stage to portray historical figures.

“We wanted to expose people to history that may not be so mainstream,” said Capt. Keturah Onukwuli, 926th Wing Air Force reservist. “Everyone is familiar with Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X and Rosa Parks but there’s so many other figures who we call ‘hidden figures’ because they have their own stories as to how their platforms brought the struggles of black people in America to the forefront.”

The musical began with two actors taking a walk through a black history museum. As the actors stopped at each of the five exhibits, a historical figure would appear on stage and tell their tale.

The first hidden figure the cast portrayed was U.S. Army 1st Lt. John R. Fox, an artillery officer with the 92nd Infantry Division, also known as the Buffalo Division. Fox was killed in action during World War II and posthumously received the Medal of Honor for sacrificing his life to stop a German advance during the Italian campaign.

The second hidden figure portrayed was educator, stateswoman and civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune who is famous for starting a private school for black Americans in Daytona Beach, Florida. Bethune was known as the First Lady of the Struggle while she served as advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Olympic athlete, Tommie C. Smith, was next to be portrayed on stage. During the Summer Olympics of 1968 in Mexico City, Mexico, Smith won the gold medal in the 200-meter race with a time of 19.83 seconds, the first time the 20-second barrier was broken legally. While standing on the medal podium, Smith and teammate John Carlos raised their fists to show solidarity with people fighting internationally for human rights. The president of the International Olympic Committee at the time, Avery Brundage, removed Smith and Carlos from the Games.

The next hidden figure comes from the world of ballet, Misty Copeland. As the actress graced the stage with ballet dance moves she told the story of Copeland and how she became the first black American woman to be promoted to principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre. Time Magazine also named Copeland as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Last to be represented on stage was the father of rock ’n’ roll, Chuck Berry. With famous titles like “Maybellene” and “Johnny B. Goode,” Berry took rhythm and blues and developed major elements of rock music such as guitar solos and showmanship. Berry was one of the first musicians inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame during its grand opening in 1986 and “Johnny B. Goode” is the only rock ‘n’ roll song on the golden record aboard the Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977.

Segregation in the military ended with President Harry Truman’s Executive Order 9981 on July 26, 1948. Since then the military continues to strive for equality and promote a culture of dignity and respect.

The celebration ended with closing remarks from Col. Todd Moore, 21st Space Wing commander and a buffet of southern-style comfort food.

“We can’t turn a blind eye to the issues black Americans may face being in the military because we come from different cultures,” said Onukwuli. “We have to be aware of the sensitivities, but at the end of the day it’s something to rejoice to know that how I view the military is very different than how my grandmother, or even great-grandparents, would view military service for people of black or brown skin.”

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