Daily Life of Tuskegee Airmen: The Lieutenant Rayner Collection

In 1982, the National Air and Space Museum inaugurated the exhibition Black Wings: American black in aviation and the accompanying book was published the following year. The exhibit relied heavily on donations of historic photographs, including a set of black-and-white copies of U.S. Army Air Force photographic negatives donated by Ahmed A. “Sammy” Rayner, Jr. These images, associated to Rayner’s recollections of his time as an Airman from Tuskegee, provide vivid examples of the daily life of the 477th Bombardment Group and their training activities in the United States. His experiences as a black officer and pilot later fueled his post-war political activity.

‘Lieutenant A.A. Rayner, Jr. [Ahmed A. “Sammy” Rayner, Jr.]616th Bombardment Squadron, and his crew pose in front of their [North American] B-25 at Godman Field, Kentucky. Kneeling, left to right: James C. McClain, David L. Glenn, Samuel R. Davis. Standing, left to right: Rayner, Samuel R. Hunter, Edward R. Gibson.’ (Smithsonian Institution, NASM-99-15443)

Ahmed Arabia “Sammy” Rayner, Jr. was born in Chicago in 1918. His father, Ahmed Sr., was an undertaker who graduated from Prairie View A&M University, Worsham College of Mortuary Science, and later the John Marshall Law School. Rayner led an active life in high school as a member of the track team, the ice skating team, and served as president of the Sign Painters Club and treasurer of the Civil Industrial Club. He began his college career at the University of Illinois, but his father persuaded him to study at Prairie View, his alma mater. Rayner was equally busy in college as a member of the tennis team, drama club, intramural football, cheerleader, and sophomore class president. He graduated in 1939 with a BA in history and a minor in government, his undergraduate thesis entitled “A Comparative Study of the Characters and Administration of the Two Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt”.

Personnel of the 477th Bombardment Group (M). All-black B-25 bomb squad personnel during training, World War II, circa 1944. (Smithsonian Institution, NASM-9A18332)

Rayner also followed his father into the mortuary business graduating from the University of Minnesota School of Embalming. In 1941, he was inducted into the army. He went to basic training at Camp Davis, then attended officer candidate school, receiving his commission in August 1942.

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