Mississippi aviator to be honored with life-size bust

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Nov. 10--GULFPORT -- A life-size bronze bust of Mississippi aviator John C. Robinson, aka the Brown Condor, will be unveiled and dedicated at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport.

The bust is by sculptor Edward Shumper and was commissioned by the John C. Robinson Brown Condor Association in honor of the Gulfport aviation pioneer.

It is the first of several planned busts of Mississippi Aviators and "is dedicated to the inspiration of our youth," said James Smith, president of the Brown Condor group.

"It is a way to ... use the story of aviation to inspire the community, especially young people with the message: 'People really can dream big dreams in Mississippi.'"

The combination Veterans Day program and kick-off of the effort to build the Mississippi Aviation Heritage Museum on the grounds of the airport is hosted by the airport and the Brown Condor association, which is working to build the museum.

It will be held in the third floor conference room of the terminal building. The event is free, open to the public and parking is free for those who attend by bringing parking tickets inside to be stamped.

Robinson was an African-American aviator who grew up in Gulfport during the 1920s and realized his dream of being a pilot despite being told that flying was a skill beyond the reach of his race.

He became commander of the Ethiopian Air Force in 1935 and is the father of the Tuskegee aviation program that produced the famed Tuskegee Airmen of World War II.

Guest speaker on "The Passion for Flight" will be Robert van der Linden, director of the Aeronautics Division of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. He will talk about how the public enthusiasm for flying was born and spread in the U. S. in the period before World War II.

"Aviation was symbol of progress, a symbol of hope, especially when the economy got bad," he said.

"It was also a symbol of equality because an airplane doesn't know and doesn't care who is flying it: man, woman, black or white. That message was not lost on a lot of people, including Amelia Earhart, John Robinson and others."

Thomas E. Simmons of Gulfport, author of "The Brown Condor: The True Adventures of James C. Robinson," will summarize Robinson's lifestory and his significance as the person to be honored first.

Until the museum is finished in the next several years, the bust will be displayed in the airport terminal building, said Smith. It will be in a very visible spot next to the first baggage claim, where "You can see it coming down the stairs and also see it coming in the door."

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