Hattiesburg artist talks about connection to Tuskegee Airmen

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - "I take it upon myself to spread the word about blacks in the military," said artist and historian, Clinard "Clint" Martin.

As a veteran of the United States Air force, blacks in the military is a topic Martin knows well, but as the nephew of one of the Tuskegee Airmen it is also a topic he is passionate about.

"There were two red tail pilots that came out of Pike County,Mississippi which is where I am from. One was my uncle named Walter Downs. He was commander of the 301st Fighter Squadron in Ramitelli, Italy in 1944," said Martin.

Family ties to the first African American military aviators in the United States Armed Forces has made a significance impression in Martin's life. It lead him to start painting again, a talent he says he put aside in his younger years.

"I kind of lost interest after I found out that blacks was not going to be allowed to train as an artist in the state of Mississippi," said Martin.

Now, Martin paints the scenes of combat told to him by his uncle. Some stories Martin heard gave him a glimpse into the harsh reality the airmen faced.

"In 1925, there was a study that was done by the war college that said that black had small veins in their heads going into their brain. They could not pick up the idea of how to fly an airplane. All sorts of things. Of course we all knew that was not true. They did become pilots," said Martin.

Martin's paintings aren't the only way to see depictions of the airmen. The entire country has an opportunity to see an account of the airmen in the recently release movie "Red tails."

"I'm just so happy that it finally got to the big screen," said Martin.

On the big screen or on canvas, Martin says he is glad the airmen's story is remembered. A task Martin continues to see to through his paintings, which can be seen in several places including the Smithsonian, the Pentagon, and several military academies.