The Tuskegee Airmen were the country's first black aviation combat unit. The legendary all-black fighting force, originally 16,000 pilots and ground crew, fought in World War II on behalf of a country that actively discriminated against them.
The Air Force was the first service to integrate its ranks fully. It began the process in 1949 because the Tuskegee Airmen, despite suffering terrible discrimination in World War II, had demonstrated that they could fly and fight against Hitler's best. This achievement undermined the foundation of segregation--the belief that blacks were inferior to whites. If blacks could arm, maintain, and fly airplanes as well as whites could, no one could assert a legitimate basis for segregation.
Tuskegee University was awarded the U.S. Army Air Corps contract to help train America's first Black military aviators because it had already invested in the development of an airfield, had a proven civilian pilot training program and its graduates performed highest on flight aptitude exams.
omber crews named the Tuskegee Airmen "Red-Tail Angels" after the red tail markings on their aircraft. Also known as "Black" or "Lonely Eagles," the German Luftwaffe called them "Black Bird Men." The Tuskegee Airmen flew in the Mediterranean theater of operations. The Airmen completed 15,000 sorties in approximately 1,500 missions, destroyed over 260 enemy aircraft, sank one enemy destroyer, and demolished numerous enemy installations.
The black airmen who became single-engine or multi-engine pilots were trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field (TAAF) in Tuskegee Alabama. The first aviation cadet class began in July 1941 and completed training nine months later in March 1942. Thirteen started in the first class.
In April 1941, months before the United States entered World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt visited Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama, where the Tuskegee airmen had begun training. Charles “Chief” Anderson, Tuskegee’s chief flight instructor at the time, offered to take the first lady around the field. Anderson had taught himself to fly years earlier in a used plane he bought with his own savings. Roosevelt agreed, and the photos and film that came out of the 40-minute flight helped convince people in power to support the creation of a black fighter group.
It was called an “experiment” because the initiative was expected to fail. The Army’s decisions about blacks in its ranks were still influenced by a 1925 Army War College report called The Use of Negro Manpower in War. The 67-page report was full of cruel generalizations about the behavior of black men during wartime and the black race in general. It even went so far as to state that black men are “very low in the scale of human evolution.” The black cadets were determined to create a record of excellence during their training and future war service to make the “experiment” work.
At its inception, twelve cadets and one officer, Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., who later became the Air Force's first African American general, were in the program. These and later graduates became known as "Tuskegee Airmen," and formed the 99th Pursuit Squadron. The 99th fought with distinction in the Mediterranean Theater, and later joined three newer Tuskegee squadrons to form the 332nd Fighter Group.
Despite the handicap of racial segregation and the denial of basic rights granted to all Americans under the Constitution, these young men became mathematicians, scientists, and engineers competent in the operation, navigation, and maintenance of the most sophisticated aircraft in the world. The Tuskegee Airmen, although limited in number due to segregationist policies in the War Department, were among the best that America could offer to the war effort.
They knew that the future success of the civil rights movement was inextricably tied to their success in combat in the skies over Europe and in their conduct at segregated training bases at home. The engineers of the movement were also aware that the success of the Airmen would not only help to eliminate questions about the loyalty of African Americans to the United States, the success of the Airmen would help belie, at the core, the basis for racial discrimination in America - white supremacy.
A new version of the Citelighter Toolbar is available.
We have updated some of the features and functions of Citelighter to improve the experience. The version of the Citelighter Toolbar that you have is older and might not function correctly.
You can get the newest version by pressing the button below.