On a recent outing I ran across this abandoned luncheonette, complete with green and gold “privilege” sign, on Tuskegee Airmen Way off 150th Street. The yellow tin letters on green background were offered to shopkeepers by local Coca-Cola bottling companies. The letters were attached the green portion of the sign to spell out whatever the vendor wanted and are referred to as the “privilege panel.” As a rule, a Coca-Cola advertising sign was located somewhere on the sign, but as you can see it has since dropped off. The place appears to have been out of business for some time.
The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of African-American military pilots who fought in World War II, forming the 332nd Fighter Group and 477th Bombardment Group in the US Army Air Force (the Air Force was a division of the US Army during WWII). They trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field and at Tuskegee University near Tuskegee, Alabama. In that era, unfortunately, discrimination and Jim Crow was still enforced, especially in the South, and African-American military men were subject to segregation. In spite of this the nearly 1000 Airmen were considered highly successful, flew over 15,000 missions and earned over 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses. 80 of the Airmen were from NYC, with six from the Jamaica neighborhood.
In 2013 the NYC City Council voted unanimously to rename a major east-west thoroughfare in south Jamaica for the Airmen. In a coincidental, yet somehow fitting circumstance, the road’s previous name was South Road. It’s rare that a street is “completely” renamed these days, with most honorifics placed on additional street signs. But the name South Road in Queens has passed into history, officially.
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