The story of the Tuskegee Airmen is a remarkable one. This intrepid group of African American fighter pilots not only helped break down racial barriers in the armed forces, but also played a significant role in the United States’ victory in World War II. One of the prominent figures in this group was Col. Charles E. McGee, a 1978 graduate of Columbia College-Kansas City.

Col McGee

As part of Columbia College’s new Alumni Scholar Lecture Series, McGee recently spoke to a packed house in Bixby Lecture Hall about his experiences in World War II. Having received numerous commendations throughout his lifetime, including the Congressional Gold Medal (the nation’s highest civilian award), McGee’s exploits as a fighter pilot have been well documented.

McGee used the forum to touch on subjects not so well publicized, such as racial discrimination he and the other Airmen faced. McGee inspired the crowd with his story of perseverance in the face of segregation, and how, even with the negativity that he and other Airmen routinely experienced, his patriotism never wavered.

“We need to be aware of history, but not repeat it,” McGee said.

He also shared his advice for today’s young adults, which centered on what he referred to as the “Four P’s” – perceive, prepare, perform and persevere. McGee advised the crowd to consider their attitudes toward their neighbors, friends, family, and ultimately, their country. He said if people approached life in this manner, it might lead to a better country for all.

To honor this true American hero, Columbia College established the Colonel Charles E. McGee Scholarship Fund. The scholarship is awarded to a veteran student who embodies the spirit and courage of Col. McGee.