City to unveil statue, dedicate plaza honoring Tuskegee Airman, war hero Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson at Rouge Park

  • New plaza to be unveiled June 23 made possible by generosity of the Henry Ford II Fund
  • Public invited to attend event honoring late Detroit veteran and educator

The City of Detroit invites the media and public to the unveiling of a statue and plaza dedicated to the memory of Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson, the Tuskegee Airman who helped win World War II and returned home to rise above discrimination to become a celebrated educator.

The event will begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 23 at the plaza on Jefferson Field at the corner of Spinoza Drive and Joy Road.  Additional details will be announced closer to the event.

Lt. Colonel Alexander Jefferson pic1
Lt. Colonel Alexander Jefferson was honored by the City of Detroit on his 100th birthday in November 2021. The City is unveiling a statue and plaza dedicated to his memory on June 23.


Jefferson’s flying unit, called Red Tails for the colors on their plane tails, escorted bombers into action in Europe – and lost so few planes that bombers requested them for flying runs.  Jefferson was shot down and kept as a POW before being released and returning to Detroit, where he had a stellar career as a teacher and vice principal. He also helped found a Tuskegee Airman chapter of former pilots in Detroit.

The Office of Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship will unveil the statue and dedicate the plaza on the field that bears Jefferson’s name where he flew model airplanes later in life. The site is at the corner of Spinoza Drive and Joy Road.

“Lt. Col. Jefferson was a hero in every sense of the word and so richly deserves this honor,” said Mayor Mike Duggan. “He distinguished himself as a Tuskegee Airman and prisoner of war in World War II, and again at home as a celebrated educator. The people of Detroit are deeply grateful to him for his service and this plaza and statue is a reflection of our collective appreciation.”   

The plaza was made possible by the generous support of Cynthia and Edsel Ford and the Henry Ford II Fund.

“It is a privilege to participate in this effort to honor Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson and the Tuskegee Airmen,” said Cynthia Ford. “By any measure, they were true heroes.  They valiantly and selflessly served their country while overcoming the challenges of segregation and prejudice.  Lt. Col. Jefferson continued to live a life of purpose, service and commitment to others in profoundly meaningful ways.  By honoring his life with this statue, visitors to the plaza in this city park will now have the opportunity to remember, show gratitude for and be inspired by Lt. Col. Jefferson and his legacy of patriotism and service to his country and community.   

The City honored Jefferson on his 100th birthday in November 2021 by announcing the creation of the now-completed plaza. Detroit ACE partnered with the General Services Department (GSD) and the Department of Public Works to create the welcoming public space for youth and families to honor one of the most decorated soldiers from World War II and his enduring contributions to Detroit and America and inspire youth to become pilots.

The City will unveil the statue in hopes that it will increase tourism at the City’s largest park while also honoring forgotten soldiers who helped win World War II. Jefferson and the Tuskegee Airman overcame segregation and prejudice to become one of the most highly respected fighter groups of World War II. They set the stage for civil rights advocates to continue the struggle to end racial discrimination during the Civil Rights Movement. The field, already named for Jefferson, is currently used and maintained by the Detroit Aero Modelers to fly model airplanes. 

The statue was created by noted sculptor Austen Brantley, a self-taught figurative sculptor from Detroit whose work lives at the intersection of African and Greek cultures. He has said his art is inspired by African and classical art, and he wants to continue the traditions of the Harlem Renaissance. He was chosen after an open call by a community panel of architects, artists and historians.

“I was thrilled to create a statue honoring a hero,” Brantley said. "Crafted with precision and passion, the bronze statue captures the courage, determination, and resilience of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen. Every line, curve, and expression on the face of Lt. Col. Jefferson's statue tells a story of bravery and honor. The intricate details of his uniform, the resilience and care in his eyes and the dynamic pose all come together to create a powerful and inspiring tribute to this trailblazing aviator.

“Standing tall and proud, this bronze statue serves as a reminder of the remarkable contributions and sacrifices made by the lieutenant colonel and all these pioneering African American pilots during World War II. It is a symbol of hope, equality, and the pursuit of excellence in the face of adversity.

“I hope that this statue will not only honor the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen but also inspire future generations to dream big, break barriers, and strive for greatness in all their endeavors. It has been an incredible journey bringing this project to life, and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to contribute to preserving such an important piece of history through art.”

Rochelle Riley, the City’s Director of Arts and Culture, said she hopes the plaza “will serve as a gathering place at one of our biggest parks and a home where future pilots will hone their skills and find camaraderie.”



Alexander Jefferson, Lieutenant Colonel USAF Retired, was born in Detroit, Michigan on 15th November,1921. He graduated from Chadsey High School Detroit and earned a Bachelor of Science Degree, Clark College, Atlanta, Georgia: did graduate work in Chemistry, Howard University Washington DC: M.S. of Education; Wayne State University, Detroit.

In January 1944, he graduated from pilot training course at Tuskegee Army Airfield followed by three months of Combat Training at Selfridge Field, Michigan. He served as a P- 51 fighter pilot with the Red Tail, 332nd Fighter Group, 301st Fighter Squadron in Ramitelli, Italy. I n the course of providing protection from enemy aircraft, he flew 18 long range escort missions.

On August 12, 1944, three days before the invasion of southern France, he was shot down by ground fire while strafing radar stations on the coast. Captured by German troops and interned for nine months as a prisoner of war, he spent the first five months in Stalag Luft III, 80 miles east of Berlin.

On January 29, 1945, when the Russians started their offensive, the prisoners, American, British and French, were transferred to Stalag VIIA, Moosburg, about 20 miles north of Dachau. Liberated by American forces on the 29th of April 1945, Jefferson visited Dachau to witness the results of the atrocities committed by the Nazis.

Lt. Colonel Alexander Jefferson pic2


He was discharged from active duty in 1947 and retired from the reserves in 1969 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Following the war, he became an elementary science teacher in the Detroit Public Schools. He retired as an assistant principal in 1979. He is an active member of various church, educational and alumni organizations. He is one of the founders of the Detroit Chapter of the Tuskegee Airman (which is the original chapter) and is a member of the Tuskegee Airmen Speaker Bureau. As a Life Member of the Silver Falcon Association, he served on a voluntary basis as an Admissions Counselor for the U.S. Air Force Academy.

The lieutenant colonel received numerous awards, including: Purple Heart; Bronze Star, Air Force Achievement Medal; POW medal; Air Force Presidential Unit Citation; American Defense Service Medal; American Campaign Medal; World War II Victory Medal; Congressional Gold Medal; and the French Knight of the Legion of Honor Medal.

Detroit ACE oversees the City of Detroit’s investment in the fine and performing arts, culture and history with a special focus on supporting the city’s creative workforce.   

Follow ACE on Twitter , Instagram  and Facebook