Sixth Annual Tuskegee Airmen Convocation at Tuskegee University
On February 23, 2006, Remembered for their valor and bravery, 72 of the nation’s first African-American military aviators were recognized during the Sixth Annual Tuskegee Airmen Convocation at Tuskegee University.
The convocation, which was held at 11 a.m., in the General Daniel Chappie James Center for Aerospace Science and Health Education, recognized the Tuskegee Airmens exemplary combat performance during World War II and their important contribution to Tuskegee’s distinctive educational mission.
University President Benjamin F. Payton noted that the African-American pilots began flight training at the University’s Moton Field in 1941 and gained international fame during World War II. “The Airmen’s achievement is an integral part of Tuskegee University’s past and present legacy of academic excellence and public service,” Dr. Payton said.
It was under the leadership of Tuskegee President Frederick D. Patterson, that the school was awarded the U.S. Army Air Corp’s contract to host, help and train America’s first African American fighter pilots. Tuskegee won that contract in open competition with other universities. “Tuskegee University submitted a proposal in response to the Army Air Corp’s request for proposals to train Black pilots. We had already collaborated with leading African American civil rights groups and the Black press to exert pressure on the federal administration to provide the opportunity for Blacks to train as pilots,” Dr. Payton said.
At the time Tuskegee University had already invested in the development of an air field, had a proven civilian pilot training program, and its graduates performed highest on flight aptitude exams. Between 1941 and 1945, nearly 1,000 African-Americans were trained as fighter pilots at Tuskegee . Program participants were graduates of Tuskegee University, as well as graduates of other universities across the nation.
The Tuskegee Airmen had a distinguished record of combat performance, including but not limited to:
“The destruction of 260 enemy aircraft their never having lost a single bomber to enemy fire in more than 200 combat missions as air escorts; an achievement unmatched by any other fighter group, the collective earning of 850 medals Their distinguished combat performance helped persuade then-President Harry S. Truman in 1948 to issue Executive Order 9981, which desegregated the U.S. Military,” Dr. Payton said.
Tuskegee University played an integral role in creating the Tuskegee Airmen legacy, and for that reason, honorary doctorates in public service were bestowed upon these remaining legendary African-American military aviators. “We are conferring these degrees as part of Tuskegee’s 125th celebration because these aviators have contributed mightily to American, African-American and to Tuskegee University’s history,” Dr. Payton said. It should be also be noted that the Tuskegee Airmen’s legacy provides the inspiration for Tuskegee’s current aerospace scienceengineering program, the only historically black college or university program to offer an accredited degree in aerospace science engineering. Since 1983 more Black aerospace science engineers have graduated from the program than any other in this country.
Source Credit – Tuskegee University website at: http://www.tuskegee.edu