MARTINSBURG – New exhibit, “Flying with Banning” opens at Martinsburg Public Library, rich in history and telling the story of the first African Americans, James Herman Banning and Thomas Cox Allen, to perform a transcontinental flight from California in New York, leaving a unique imprint along the way. The exhibit is sponsored by The Greatest Stories Never Told and the Berkeley County branch of the NAACP through February 5.
In addition to the exhibit open to the public, there is an exciting event coming up at the Martinsburg Public Library in conjunction with the interactive panels. Co-author of “Sprouting Wings: The True Story of James Herman Banning, the First African American pilot to Fly Across the United States”, Louisa Jaggar, with Broadway, TV and “The Flying Hobos” actor, Kevin Mambo, host a special community event featuring Jaggar’s book.
On January 17, although the Martinsburg Public Library will be closed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it will open for the event to begin at 6:00 p.m., to feature Mambo reading aloud from Jaggar’s book, “Sprouting Wings.”
“In a journey that would span 3,300 miles, take twenty-one days, and inspire a nation, James Herman Banning has proven that you cannot put barriers on dreams,” the book’s official description states. “Louisa Jaggar incorporates over seven years of research, including Banning’s own writings and an interview with the aviator’s great-nephew. She teams up with co-writer Shari Becker and award-winning illustrator Floyd Cooper to capture Banning’s historic flight across the United States.
Jaggar and Mambo both spoke to the Journal about their enthusiasm and enthusiasm for the exhibition and the free open reading aloud to the public that evening at the library.
As executive director of The Greatest Stories Never Told, Jaggar helped design and write the exhibit.
She explained that they went to Lonnie Bunch, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, to do an exhibit. Bunch then went to Ralph Appelbaum and Associates who established the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. After the Appelbaum team gave a ‘yes’, planning and design began to create what is now in schools, libraries, and community centers – now in the Martinsburg Public Library.
“To have forgotten him in history was a terrible thing,” said Jaggar. “They gave a lot of their time to help us. “
Banning may have been the first African American to fly from California to New York City, but his accomplishments were not widely shared in the mainstream media like other achievements of the pilots at the time.
“Banning’s stories were in 162 African American newspapers; it was only in a mainstream newspaper. The African American community was very aware of who he was, but after his death and time passed he was never in the history books, ”Jaggar said. “We found out about it because a friend of mine, Pat Smith, was researching for National Geographic and she found this little cut.
“I kind of fell in love with this man because what he did was so much more than just fly from one place to another – he built his own plane so that he could save his solo hours,” added Jaggar. “He was also a writer, and because he could write, he wrote to newspapers about how African Americans were treated unfairly and he put his name in it and he did it without fear. When he flew across the country, he wrote to say exactly what it looked like to him.
As chair of the Martinsburg Berkeley County NAACP Education Committee and a 43-year retired educator, Fay Stump helped bring the exhibit into the Martinsburg Library.
“It all started when one of our local teachers, Cindy Evarts, applied for a grant and had about 200 students involved and we had heard from our committee members that it was very successful but it was a virtual event because of COVID and we wanted to bring in the whole school system – as many students and teachers as we could reach, ”Stump explained. “Thanks to the grant and our contact with Louisa, we were able to have the exhibit as it was not in use during the month of January in our local library – we certainly jumped on it.”
Stump said she was excited to attend the read aloud event to get her copy of “Sprouting Wings” signed by them and hear the story read aloud.
“Kevin, as a performer and actor, I’m really happy to hear him read the book to us. Louisa, a co-author will be there. We will have books available and people who want Louisa and Kevin to sign it, ”she explained. “They are passionate and committed to their involvement with the nonprofit, The Greatest Stories Never Told, and they generously give of their time and talents to our community and the NAACP certainly appreciates it.”
Stump said that during the Jan. 17 event, organizers hoped anyone who attended the reading aloud would respectfully wear a mask to protect other attendees.
“If there are any changes, we’ll do well on social media and email if for some reason the event needs to be changed or delayed,” Stump added.
Excited by the event read aloud, Jaggar shared one of her favorite Banning stories, one that contributed to the title of her book.
“He got a cow pasture so he could build the plane on the cow pasture, and then he drove it along the pasture in circles over and over again because he was terrified of taking off. Then one day he was going a little too fast, he said and he was going so fast he had a choice of going up or hitting the trees. He took off in the air and he said he felt like he had sprouted wings, ”Jaggar explained. “Another thing he said over and over again was, ‘Freedom in the air will someday lead to freedom on earth. The things he did and wrote about, he took his whole community with him.
She and Mambo explained that Banning and Allen would ask people to sign the wing of the plane if they gave them a meal, if they bought gas, etc. throughout their journey, claiming it was his entire community coming with him.
“I think that’s what makes him so remarkable,” Jaggar said.
Stump said beyond the read aloud event, she hopes teachers will consider field trips to the library to view the exhibit.
“I have also discovered that as a teacher so many students do not have library cards and I consider this to be one of the most important documents an American citizen can. to have. This would be a great time for field trips to help students get library cards, ”she said. “In addition, the library has already ordered several copies of ‘Sprouting Wings’, so it will be available for students who wish to consult the book.”
Jaggar explained that the exhibition aims to engage and educate those who see it and participate in its activities.
“If a child gets emotionally involved and actually thinks for himself and finds an answer, he will remember it forever,” Jaggar said. “There’s not a single word in there that isn’t Banning’s own words. We actually have some of the African American newspapers in different places they landed and little things about what they wrote – it opens up a whole new world for kids to actually see what was going on at that time. , and that it wasn’t just going on, but everyone knew who was part of that community.
She said that in the back there was a wheel to spin to see if you would survive if you flew at that point – “I crashed,” she said, laughing.
She added that as the exhibit has been presented, they find grade 4 and up to enjoy it as well as adults.
Stump said during the conversation that events like this are one of the many exciting aspects of his position with the NAACP, finding it rewarding to work with county committee members and teachers.
“Our main goal is to truly help the community and our schools to ensure that we are teaching the truth about the treatment and contributions of African Americans and people of color in our country,” Stump said. “I personally felt, from the readings I did during my three years of retirement, very irritated that there was so much that we did not learn in school that we would have. had to learn. I am just doing what I can to help correct this error in education and update our curriculum so that today’s young people have the benefit of knowing the full history of our country .
The three discussed the new program guide that the Martinsburg Berkeley County NAACP is actively working on.
“I don’t think there is a problem in our country that cannot be solved by education. More people are educated and know the facts about everything they seek to understand, which is to say that the solution to so many of our problems is a well educated population, ”said Stump.
Jaggar added that one of the prevalent things about the curriculum guide is helping children learn to research.
“Teaching children what the primary sources are, what the secondary sources are, where they can find things, what the views of the people writing the news are – all of that is something that we build into the curriculum. We also hope that they will discover their own best stories that no one has told, because there are many, ”Jaggar said. “There are so many people who have done amazing things that we don’t know. Even though it’s a community and it hasn’t touched the whole world but it touched their community, I think it’s incredibly important.
Stump said that on top of that, one of the NAACP’s goals for the 2022 school year is to bring the performance “The Flying Hobos”.
“It is not possible to learn everything in class. It is important for students to know that it is so important to have the curiosity and initiative to look for sources that can teach us more and to be able to say if the sources are credible and reliable is also very important ” , Stump said. . “Our committee is actively working to secure funding to bring The Flying Hobos to our community in October 2022.”
Stump said the community’s response to this goal has been “amazing” so far.
Mambo said that when he starred in the production he saw remarkable things and impressive engagement from all ages.
“In the room, we have children who help us understand some of the issues along the journey. They want these guys to win, ”he said. “We did a show in Virginia, and at one point we crashed the plane. And I remember coming to that point in the show, that little girl sitting right in front of me and barely whispering, because she was terrified of what was going to happen, she looked up at me. and said “What happened next?” “- full commitment. This is the purpose of the show.
For more information on The Greatest Stories Ever Told, the ‘Flying with Banning’ or ‘The Flying Hobos’ exhibit, visit www.greateststoriesnevertold.org/