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Tuskegee Airmen Congressional Gold Medal honors St. Petersburg's Al Downing

ST. PETERSBURG — The announcement of federal money for summers jobs wasn't the only reason U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor came to town. She also presided over a ceremony at the Royal Theater Boys and Girls Club to honor the late jazz legend and military veteran Al Downing.

Downing's family received the Tuskegee Airmen Congressional Gold Medal.

Downing, a former Tuskegee airman, died in 2000.

"We (Al and I) had a very, very happy marriage and from that union we had three daughters. I would like to thank all of you. I'm sure that Al is smiling at all of us and saying, 'Honey where did you get the nerve?' " his widow, Edna Downing, 91, said while accepting the award.

Downing's grandson, Chief Master Sgt. John Langston, 39, and his two sons, John, 11, and Dylan, 10, also participated in the ceremony.

"This is very inspiring," Langston said. "It is a chance to give back some respect to the Tuskegee Airmen, and I happen to be related to this one. I have been working on this for the past eight months, since I moved here from California."

Downing's musical legacy was vast. He taught a variety of musical courses at Gibbs Junior College and at St. Petersburg Junior College. Downing also founded the Allegro Music Society and the Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz Association.

"I stand on broad shoulders and I'm forever grateful that they took the opportunity to make sure that every young person behind them could be the best they could be and participate in every aspect of life," said Wengay Newton, City Council member from District 7.

Robert La Rocca is a reporter for the Neighborhood News Bureau, a program of the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

fast facts

The Al Downing story

Those interested in exploring the life of Al Downing can begin by visiting www.aldowning Correspondence for ADTBJA should be sent to Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz Association Inc., P.O. Box 2240, St. Petersburg, FL 33731-2240.

Tuskegee Airmen Congressional Gold Medal honors St. Petersburg's Al Downing 04/07/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 7, 2009 5:43pm]
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