Review: Layon Gray’s ‘Black Angels Over Tuskegee’




Despite the fact that Blacks were considered to be lazy with small brains and no capacity to fly planes or do technical work, the men of the 332nd Fighter Group of the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Corps shot down that segregated stereotype with each task they passed at the in Tuskegee Alabama where African American pilots were trained.




 Layon Gray’s poignant play, “Black Angels Over Tuskegee” tells the story of seven Tuskegee Airmen’s fight to become recognized aviators.
The production, which was in Pittsburgh for one night, served as the genesis of New Horizon Theater’s current season.

“Black Angels Over Tuskegee fits right into our mission and what we are trying to do,” said New Horizon Theater Chairperson, Joyce Meggerson-Moore.

New Horizon Theater was founded with the mission to bring to the Greater Pittsburgh area consistent, high-quality cultural events, reflecting the African-American points of view, and to provide an ongoing venue for ethnic writers and performers to further their professional development.

The two-hour and five minute show is told in narrative form and chronicles the struggle of seven Black men working toward becoming pilots in the United States Army Air Forces. Jim Crow laws, wanting to be included equally as valuable and contributing members of society are some of the themes explored.

The play opens with six of the men as they arrive in Utah to take the flight test to become students of the black pilot program in Tuskegee, Alabama.

Officials tried to deter the men’s dreams of becoming pilots by turning off the heat in the pre-testing holding room in Utah and keeping them men confined to the room for hours.

Instead of giving up, the men formed life-long relationships that helped them pass the test to become members of the all-Black flight school. They continued to have each other backs as the Tuskegee flight program and once they earned their wings and became members of the elite Tuskegee Airmen.

“It’s like we’re fighting two wars one in Germany and another at Tuskegee,” said one of the play’s actors. “We couldn’t go into town without being called a n***** or  being spit on.”

“Black Angels Over Tuskegee” stars Thaddeus Daniels as Man, Ananias Dixon as Theodore, Melvin Huffnagle as the up-tight Jerimiah, Lamar Cheston as Percival, David Roberts as Abe, Jeanique Oriol as Elijah and writer, director, and actor Layon Gray as Quenten.

“It was good to see a group of Negro men working hard to fight for something they believed in and to prove that we could do what they said we couldn’t do: fly planes. We all knew what we were doing was special not only to us but to the entire Negro race,” said a cast member.

The Pittsburgh audience left the Byham Theater feeling pride and love for the struggles they had to endure earn their wings.

“Black Angels Over Tuskegee” was part of a series of weekend-long events that included the unveiling of the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial at Sewickley Cemetery, the largest outdoor Tuskegee Airmen memorial in the Unites States.

Following its one-night performance in Pittsburgh, “Black Angels Over Tuskegee” will make its way to London.

“We will be taking the play to Afghanistan to entertain the troops, “Gray said proudly. “



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