Black History Month: Dr. Louis Rayfield Purnell

Louis Rayfield Purnell was born in Snow Hill but raised in the Wilmington area.

He was one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, flying 88 missions over North Africa and Europe.

Purnell earned many honors and accolades in his lifetime including the Flying Air Medal, six Oak Clusters and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Later on in life, Dr. Purnell became the first African-American curator for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Purnell became the foremost expert on spaceships and spacesuits.

The museum and its displays became renowned all over the world.

According to local historian, Gregory Purnell, Louis Purnell helped to create an extensive exhibit centering on aviation and space in 1968 and stayed on until retiring in 1985.

Dr. Purnell went on to become the first African American curator within the Smithsonian Museum system.

His accomplishment was unheard of because Blacks were rarely given these types of opportunities at that time.

Because of his curiosity and quest for knowledge, Dr. Purnell earned a degree from Howard University in Paleontology and Oceanography according to Gregory Purnell.

Purnell also says some of his works are still being used today in the National Museum of Science.

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