GROVETOWN — When Christina Anderson, of Grovetown, acquired her grandfather’s mementos earlier this year, she knew they were significant to history.
Anderson’s grandfather was C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson, the chief flight instructor for the Civilian Pilot Training Program at Tuskegee Institute, who taught the famous Tuskegee Airmen.
She contacted the Smithsonian in Washington, and on Wednesday, Bill Gwaltney, the museum’s military history curator, flew into Augusta to examine her grandfather’s items. He is considering them for inclusion in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, she said.
Gwaltney met with Anderson at Paine College’s library, where the items are being stored.
He examined and photographed the artifacts, which included original pilot’s licenses, photographs, letters written by the 99th Fighter Squadron during World War II, medals, documents, clothing and plaques, Anderson said.
Gwaltney said Anderson was “an incredibly important figure in African-American aviation, African-American history and regional history.”
Anderson helped others learn to fly and “engage in WWII in ways that not only helped to beat the Axis powers, but create a lasting legacy in the U.S. military (for African-Americans) as not only aviators, but also as officers,” he said.
“It’s exciting to see a family who is thinking about what to preserve and how to preserve it,” Gwaltney said, “Too often, we meet people who think about that sort of thing too late. By the time they get around to considering how they might preserve the family legacy or an individual person’s legacy, damage has been done or the collection has been dispersed. In some really tragic cases, it’s been thrown in the trash.”
The Smithsonian is interested in any artifacts the family wishes to sell, donate or put on long-term loan, he said.
Anderson was the first black man to receive a transport and commercial pilot’s license in the United States. He received his first pilot’s license in 1939, his granddaughter said.