Chappie James Museum takes another step toward reality

by Eurydice Stanley

Nearly 100 community members gathered Tuesday afternoon for the groundbreaking of the General Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr. Museum and Flight Academy.

Though 10 golden shovels were in place behind the childhood home of General James, nearly two dozen representatives from the community, including Mayor Ashton Hayward, family members, local politicians, and historians, took turns ceremoniously digging the earth for the foundation of the long-awaited facility.

The General Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr. Museum and Flight Academy honors not only General James, a local hero who achieved the Air Force’s highest rank barrier due to his exemplary service in a military force still battling segregation and racism, but also his mother, Lillie James.

Mrs. Lillie James changed the trajectory of an entire community through education. By teaching in her own community school, she ensured that Pensacola’s African-American children received a befitting education that far exceeded the “separate but equal” standard of the day.

She told her son there was an 11th Commandment for him, “Thou shalt not quit.” Similarly, General “Chappie” James Flight Academy has installed that message in area youth and encouraged them to “be prepared for the train of opportunity” for the past 20 years.

The Flight Academy will be moved into the museum upon its completion and will provide flight and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) training.

“We have a lot of talented youth in this community,” said Clifford Curtis, Director of the Flight Academy. “We need to springboard them.”

Curtis shared written remarks from James’ son, retired Lt. Gen. Daniel James, III, former Director of the Air National Guard. Now 71, James III limits his travel, but he wanted to ensure that participants knew how his roots meant to his father.

In his remarks, he noted General “Chappie” James was a proud son of Pensacola and maintained his original “Pensacola 9W” license plates throughout his military career.