On June 11, 2018 the Kennedy Heights Arts Center witnessed the unveiling of an original sculpture by Jarret Hawkins, honoring the legacy of Tuskegee Airman Lr. John Leahr. This is the culmination of hours of volunteer time and financial support from the Ohio Arts Council, Community Council, and friends and neighbors.
Jarrett Hawkins’ body of work can be seen in cities, parks, corporate, and private collections in Ohio and other states throughout the U.S. He and his partner, Celene Hawkins, also an artist, started Hawkins & Hawkins Custom in 1994. Jarrett was a Fellow at the Artist’s Enclave at I-Park in 2008.
The surrounding area will feature landscaping reminiscent of the terrain that the Tuskegee Airmen flew over. The landscaping has been designed by Clete Benken and MKSK Landscape Architects, and creates a beautiful environment that will inspire and educate visitors for years to come.
As a student at North Avondale Montessori School, Leahr was one of only a few African-American students in Miss Pitchell’s third grade class. Later in life, Leahr joined the Tuskegee Airmen, the first group of African-American military aviators to serve in the U.S. Army Air Corps. During World War II, the Tuskegee Airmen flew more than 15,000 missions in Europe and North Africa.
Leahr flew 115 combat missions, including two in which he escorted Lt. Herbert M. Heilbrun, who also hailed from Ohio. The two learned that they had attended the same school, but the pilots had not been close during childhood because of racial divisions in the community.
After the war ended, Leahr and Heilbrun reconnected and discovered that they were once again only living a few minutes away from each other. They became fast friends and worked to spread the word of how the Tuskegee Airmen helped lead the U.S. military to integration.
While their story had already been told through various newspaper articles, television features, and White and Black Airmen: Their True History, a book by John Fleischman, Herring said Kennedy Heights desired a physical memorial that celebrated Leahr’s bravery and commitment to his country.
“We wanted an original work of art to honor First Lieutenant John Leahr on the grounds of the Kennedy Heights Arts Center,” she said.
For Hawkins, the memorial is a chance to honor Leahr and thank other veterans for their sacrifice and service.
“I hope this will impact the community in a very positive way. I think it is really important to do appropriate memorial work for our veterans, that’s the simplest way to say it,” he said. “These guys were exemplary individuals by any standard. And I want to do whatever I can to make the community more aware of the contributions that its members have made.”
Learn more about John Leahr in TUSKEGEE AIRMEN PROFILES!
See the Memorial bench honoring Tuskegee Airman John Leahr and B-17 pilot Herbert Heilbrun
Ohio Arts Council