A stretch of highway in Moniteau County may soon be named after Missouri's last Tuskegee Airman, who died last year.
Legislation working through the Missouri House would name the portion of U.S. Highway 50 from Bahner Quarry Road to Tower Road the "SGT James L Shipley Memorial Highway."
A resident of Tipton, Shipley died in July 21, 2022, at the age of 99. While in the military, he served as a crew chief and mechanic for the 332nd Fighter Group, commonly referred to as the "Tuskegee Airmen" or "Red Tails." He was the last living member of the group in Missouri.
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military aviators in the U.S. armed forces and served in World War II. They've gained recognition for breaking racial barriers in the military and for having a stellar combat record protecting American bombers.
Rep. Willard Haley, R-Eldon, is sponsoring the legislation to memorialize Shipley with a highway designation and led the House in a moment of silence Tuesday to honor him.
"Jim and his fellow brave airmen were dedicated to achieving victory, despite working in segregated conditions and being treated as second-class citizens more often than not," Haley said from the House floor.
Pending approval of Haley's bill, private donations will pay for the highway sign and the Missouri Department of Transportation will erect it.
After returning home from World War II, Shipley became one of the last Black farmers in the Midwest, Haley said. He and his wife also owned and operated a gas station off Highway 50 and he drove a school bus, worked as a mechanic and operated a fireworks stand out of a tent south of Tipton. Shipley frequently shared his experiences with school and community groups.
"No matter what he did, he took pride in his work and always did his best," Haley said. "James dedicated countless hours to his community and his church."
Haley said "the entire town of Tipton and the surrounding area" took time to say goodbye when Shipley died last year. Two miles of his funeral procession route were lined in American flags, Haley recalled.
Haley said about $5,000 was raised for a highway sign within two days of Shipley's funeral. Organizers decided to create the James Shipley Museum of African American History with the extra funds and plan to put the museum in the Harrison School, an all-Black school Shipley attended as a student.
"James Shipley was a trailblazer. He cleared the way for Blacks who followed in his footsteps," Haley said. "He was a national treasure and a member of the greatest generation.
"It definitely was a life well-lived."
HB 44: Establishes the "SGT James L Shipley Memorial Highway" in Moniteau County
Sponsor: Rep. Willard Haley, R-Eldon