Friday was a day for standing on the shoulders of a giant at Gary/Chicago International Airport.
"It will forever be a highlight of my tenure as mayor, that I was able to join with the airport board and others in naming this bridge in honor of Dr. Quentin P. Smith," Mayor Karen-Freeman Wilson said to people gathered at the airport for the dedication of the new Airport Road overpass.
A short time later, the mayor and others pulled a blue cloth off a green sign with white lettering reading "Quentin P. Smith Tuskegee Airman Memorial Bridge."
The ceremony was held in the airport administration building, about one-quarter mile east of the vehicle overpass that will bear Smith's name.
The idea to name the bridge for Smith originated with the Rev. Marion Johnson, who is vice president of the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority.
Last month the authority board voted 7-0 to approve a resolution to name the bridge in honor of Smith. It opened to traffic at the end of April.
It is the most significant memorial unveiled to Smith to date in Gary, who died in January at the age of 94.
His son, Quentin P. Smith Jr., was there for the unveiling of the sign and said it was indeed a fitting tribute for a man who was both a pioneering aviator and a former president of the Gary Airport Authority.
"A bridge is to get us over obstacles," he said. "And he has probably helped almost everyone in this room at one time or another, me included, get over obstacles in life."
In addition to being a B-25 bombardier with the famed Tuskegee Airman Army Air Corps, the late Smith also was a noted Gary educator and civil rights activist.
Along with 100 other black U.S. Army officers, Smith was arrested in a 1945 incident at Freeman Field in Seymour, Ind., for defying orders not to enter the whites-only officers club there. Those officers were later defended by the future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
In Gary, he was the first principal of West Side High School and later founded the Emerson School for the Visual and Performing Arts.
The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority paid the $11.6 million tab for building the bridge, which is part of the $166 million airport runway expansion project. The expansion is slated to be complete by year's end.
The overpass was built to comply with railroad demands that there be no new at-grade crossings created by the runway expansion project. CSX and Canadian National tracks pass under the overpass.
It was built by Superior Construction, of Gary, and one lane in each direction is currently open with two more lanes to open by July. The sign unveiled Friday honoring Smith will be posted at one end of the bridge by that time and a second at the other end, Airport Interim Director Steve Landry said.