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El Paso County commissioners honor late civic leader, Tuskegee Airmen for contributions to community

February 18, 2014 Updated: February 18, 2014 at 6:50 pm
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photo - The Board of El Paso County Commissioners honored the contributions of local Tuskegee Airmen at their regular meeting on Tuesday, February 18, 2014. Minnie Ray Hunter, wife of the late Samuel C. Hunter Jr., who was honored along with other local Tuskegee airmen, is second from the left, in the black and white checked jacket, second row. The men in the red jackets are members of the  local chapter of airmen.
The Board of El Paso County Commissioners honored the contributions of local Tuskegee Airmen at their regular meeting on Tuesday, February 18, 2014. Minnie Ray Hunter, wife of the late Samuel C. Hunter Jr., who was honored along with other local Tuskegee airmen, is second from the left, in the black and white checked jacket, second row. The men in the red jackets are members of the local chapter of airmen. 

Carol Hunter wiped tears away with a handkerchief as the El Paso County Commissioners and others honored her father, the late Samuel C. Hunter Jr., for his service to country and community.

It was a touching Black History Month tribute to Hunter - and to his fellow Tuskegee Airmen. The commissioners' proclamation during a board meeting Tuesday noted the airmen were the first black servicemen to serve as military aviators during World War II - eventually paving the way for integration in the armed forces.

Hunter, a retired captain, later became influential in civil rights and business in Colorado Springs.

He died in December at age 94 after a life of community service that included being a funeral director, real estate broker and activist. He served on the first Head Start Board, the Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation board, and he pioneered multi-family housing for minorities by developing the Payne Chapel Housing Program. He also was a past president of the local NAACP and Urban League, among other leadership positions.

"Daddy was able to make a good life for himself and his family here in Colorado Springs," Carol Hunter said after the proclamation at Centennial Hall. "It would have pleased him to receive this honor, in addition to the recognition being given to the Tuskegee Airmen."

Hunter's wife, Minnie Ray Hunter said, "It's very kind to recognize the airmen and include Sam. He didn't talk much about those days. He was very modest."

Two of four local Tuskegee Airmen - retired officers Franklin Macon and Randy Edwards - were present for the event. The others are Marion Rogers and James E.P. Randall. (The only other Colorado residents who were airmen are John Mosley and James Harvey, both of Denver.)

Said Macon: "I really appreciate the fact that the city of Colorado Springs has done this for Sam and the rest of us."

One by one, community members came to the podium to praise Hunter and the airmen, saying they were role models.

Lowell Bell, president of the local Hubert L. "Hooks" Jones Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, said before the ceremony that the aviators "did extremely well and received medals, but when they came home they didn't receive the welcome that others did. But they persevered against prejudice."

Hunter and the others were "legends who broke down stereotypes," said El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn. He noted that his own military career, including going to the Air Force Academy and serving 21 years, was only possible because of their courage: "They made the sacrifice, and came back home to strengthen the fabric of the community."

Jeffery S. Bryant, now an art teacher at Helen Hunt Elementary School in District 11, took time off to attend the proclamation event.

"Hunter touched my life and gave me one of my first summer jobs as a teenager painting a landscape mural. He knew my parents and attended the schools long ago where I have since taught, including Lowell Elementary, Colorado Springs High School (now Palmer), and South Junior High," Bryant said. "He and my father, who also served in a black unit, were my role models of what it is to be a man.

"I am privileged to teach. I stand on their shoulders."

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