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Highway to be named in honor of second African American to fly with Thunderbirds

Artwork: "Memorial Portrait - Four Thunderbirds: Major Norm Lowry, Capt. "Pete" Peterson, Capt. "Willie" Mays, and Capt. Mark Melancon" Artist: Jeanette Pajares, US Air Force Air Collection

By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter

The City of Tuskegee and Macon County will rename a portion of a highway in the city in honor of Captain Joseph “Pete” Peterson, the second African American to serve as a pilot with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

State Road 199 will be renamed as Captain Joseph “Pete” Peterson Memorial Boulevard and new signage will be dedicated at a ceremony on Thursday, Oct. 26.

Peterson died in 1982 at 32 years old when he was killed during a pre-season training on January 18. The Thunderbirds are known for their stunning air acrobatics, flying their jets as close as 36 inches apart at speeds up to 500 mph.

Peterson, who attended Tuskegee Institute High school but later transferred to Tuskegee Public School as a senior, was on the school’s football team with their athletics programs were integrated in the late 1960s.

He later took lessons from C. Alfred Anderson, a Tuskegee Airman, who is known as the father of black aviation. With Anderson’s mentorship, Peterson gained his private pilot’s license.

He later attended and graduated from Auburn University, earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing while participating in Air Force ROTC before he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force in 1971.

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General Lloyd W. Newton, the first African American pilot to fly with the Thunderbirds, will speak at the event later this month.

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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