Boulevard of Respect is an accurate description of the roadway that has been renamed in honor of Air Force Captain Joseph “Pete” Peterson.
Driving by the normally empty field at the intersection of Highway 199 and Highway 81, you could tell something big was happening on Thursday, October 26, 2017.
Transformed into an event setting by Macon County facilities workers, the grounds were meticulously manicured for that day. Macon County Sheriff’s deputies and Tuskegee police officers were ensuring a smooth flow of cars into the makeshift parking lot.
With moderate temperatures, even the weather cooperated. And the skies were the perfect shade of blue, creating a gorgeous canvas for the flyover by the famous Thunderbirds.
The honoree has been dead for many years but Captain Joseph “Pete” Peterson, III was well-represented at the dedication ceremony. Several family members attended including his father, 95-year old Joseph Peterson Jr. and Captain Peterson’s widow, Cecilia.
Visiting dignitaries included General Lloyd W. “Fig” Newton, the first African-American pilot to fly with the famous Thunderbirds, General Dan Cherry who was the Commander of the Thunderbirds before Captain Peterson joined the squadron and Lt. Colonel Dale Cook who served as a Thunderbird along with Captain Peterson.
His story reads like a script for a movie.
During high school, he developed an interest and enthusiasm for flying. He took flight lessons from “Chief” C. Alfred Anderson, a famed Tuskegee Airman, who is also revered as the “Father of Black Aviation.” Peterson continued to earn flight hours during the summers when he worked with the U.S. Park Service in California. With “Chief” Anderson’s support and guidance, Peterson earned his private pilot’s license.
After high school graduation, Peterson attended Auburn University. He participated in the Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) Program and was a member of the Arnold Air Society. Peterson earned his bachelor’s degree in Marketing and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force on August 27, 1971. He married his wife, the former Cecilia Jones of Tuskegee the next day.
He was the second African-American to serve as a pilot with the elite U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, known for their precision air shows. Tragedy ended his 32-year old life during a pre-season training on January 18, 1982. His wife, Cecilia and their two daughters, Kristian Dyann and Kimberly Nichelle, survived Captain Peterson.
To honor their fallen brother, the Thunderbirds blazed the skies over the ceremony. This flyover was a moment that had guests in awe.
The initiative to honor Captain Peterson originated with the Tuskegee Institute High School, Class of 1964. To advance the project, members of the class worked with state and county officials, relatives of Captain Peterson and friends who knew him during his time in Tuskegee.
Many reunions occurred at the dedication ceremony, including Mayor Haygood and Colonel William Sparrow. The two men recently shared an aerial adventure that opened Mayor Haygood’s eyes to the disparity of African-Americans in the aviation industry.
To read a beautifully written newspaper article on the dedication ceremony, click here.
To watch the WSFA 12 News report, click on the video below.