© 2024 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Curious Cbus

How Eastgate became home to Tuskegee Airmen and their families

A sign on a poll that says "Welcome to Eastgate" with two drawn trees framing the text.
Allie Vugrincic
A sign welcoming people to the Eastgate neighborhood.

Eastgate is a Columbus community that prides itself on its diversity. For decades, it was a community where middle-class Black families thrived.

Christine Frankart submitted a question to WOSU's Curious Cbus that asked if Eastgate was the first integrated neighborhood in Columbus and if there was an incentive program for Tuskegee airmen to get mortgages there.

Eastgate was not an integrated neighborhood for most of the 20th century. Like many Columbus developments, it had racially-restrictive housing covenants that kept Black families from owning homes.

In 1948, the landmark case Shelley v. Kraemer went in front of the Supreme Court. The court held that racially-restrictive housing covenants could not be legally enforced. The ruling meant that even if there was an existing covenant in a deed, it could no longer be imposed. The case allowed Black people to start moving into white Columbus neighborhoods like Eastgate.

An image of two students and two teachers working on math at Eastgate Elementary in 1963.
Columbus Call and Post
Columbus Metropolitan Library
Students and instructors work on math skills at Eastgate Elementary School in 1963.

Beginning in the 1950s, specifically 1953 and 1954, Eastgate became an attractive neighborhood for middle-class Black families. This change in demographics caused white families to move out, a phenomenon known as “white flight.”

White families often used “decreasing property values” as a reason to leave the neighborhood. Additionally, the rise of the highway system with the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 allowed families to move to suburbs and commute to the city for work, which also contributed to the moves of white and Black families.

One thing that set Eastgate apart was the fact that it was home to several Tuskegee Airmen, the first Black military pilots in the United States Armed Forces.

The name “Tuskegee Airmen” comes from the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where 926 pilots earned their credentials under the Army Air Force Aviation Cadet program.

In July 1945, many men who were part of the squadrons relocated to Lockbourne Air Base, 12 miles southeast of Columbus. Lockbourne, known today as Rickenbacker International Airport, is where many airmen met their future wives.

Julie Kyle’s parents met at Lockbourne Air Base. Kyle, born in 1948, is the daughter of late Tuskegee Airmen Walter Kyle. Her family moved into the Eastgate neighborhood when she was around five years old after her father lost his leg in the Korean War. She has lived in her childhood home since then.

“It was a great neighborhood to grow up in,” Kyle said. “We just get along with everybody. The neighbors were all great and everything and it was just like, everybody knew everybody.”

At one time, Eastgate was home to six Tuskegee Airmen and their families. WOSU could not find evidence of a mortgage incentive program in Eastgate for Tuskegee airmen.

An image of Tuskegee Airmen standing outside at Lockbourne Air Base.
Columbus Metropolitan Library
Tuskegee Airmen were relocated to Lockbourne Air Base outside of Columbus.

Kyle said she thinks the neighborhood appealed to Tuskegee Airmen because its racial demographic was changing.

“A lot of people were moving out and the homes became more available to Blacks, basically,” she said.

Eastgate remained a largely Black neighborhood until the early 2000s, which is when white families started moving back in. According to census data, the white population in Eastgate and its surrounding area increased from 17% in 2010 to 32% in 2020, while the Black population decreased from 77% in 2010 to 57% in 2020.

The whole population of the neighborhood has also increased by 5%.

“It was surprising at first, but then it was like, people realized that this neighborhood here, it was well established,” Kyle said.

Kyle said that even though she does not know her neighbors as well as she once did, she still enjoys living in her quaint neighborhood.

Do you have a question for Curious Cbus? Use the submission form below: