Tuskegee Airmen of World War II
During WWII there were many men that were forgotton. The Tuskegee
Airmen made a major contribution. Where
did they come from? Jakeman's book, "The Divided Skies"
recollects where the Tuskegee Airmen came from. It
is he who goes in depth about the Tuskegee Institute and its formation,
which ultimately gives birth to the
Tuskegee Airmen. After their superb flight training, there were a
select few that made a major impact in the war
through their excellent piloting skills. These men are known today
as the Tuskegee Airmen.
March 1942 - Tuskegee Army Air Field, Alabama
5 men received the silver wings of Army Air Forces polots: George
S. Roberts, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.,
Charles H. BeBow, Jr., Mac Ross, adn Lemuel R. Custis
these men completed standard Army flight clasroom
these men completed many hours of flying time
marked milestone in US military Aviation
first African-Americans to qualify as military
pilots in any branch of the armed forces
Before these five men entered the program, blacks
were continuosly excluded from aviation training programs in
By the end of WWII, almost 1,000 African-Americans had won their
wings at Tuskegee Army Air Field. Not until
1948 did the first Black American received the gold wings of a Navy
As you can see, racial exclusion in the Navy continued on many years
after the first black men graduated from
Approximately half of the black men that graduated from Tuskegee
fought in the European and Mediterranean
wars as combat mission fighter pilots
The Tuskegee Airmen have a respectable record in
they flew more than 15,000 sorties
destroyed over 1,000 German aircraft
received hundreds of Air Medals
more then 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses
1939 - The establishment of an aviation course at Tuskegee
The aviation course was a direct result of blacks crusade to be included
into the nation's military component to crusade was admitting blacks
into Air Corps
Ulysses Lee characterizes wide spread pressure
The Air Corps drew its strength from three important
black America's high regard for military service
increase in enthusiasm for black public in aviation
the emergence of civil rights as a national issue
during the 1930's
["Books are Weapons. Read About...The Negro in National Defense;
Africa and the War; Negro History and Culture" - J.P. (signed)
York, NY Silk-screen poster Prints and Photographs Division (67),
Library of Congress]
The early months of 1939
US Congress enacted legislation to expand the Air
Corps and train thousands in flying
There were amendments to Public Law 18 which allowed
the Air Corps to be expanded
The 1940 campaign put a lot of pressure on the military
late 1940 military began to make plans for a segregated
early 1941 the secretary of war approves plan to
establish 99th Pursuit Squadron and base it near Tuskegee
A Brief Overview of Aviation and Tuskegee Institute
[detail from The Lincoln Gates at Tuskegee c1906, from the Library
Tuskegee Institute, founded in 1881, continues today as Tuskegee
University commemorated since 1974 by a National Historic Site in
Alabama May 22, 1934 - the first airplane lands on the ground in an
oat field flown by John C. Robinson, Chicago aviator occurred during
the commencement exercises of 1934 many black newspapers noticed the
event marked Tuskegee's first attempt to enter the air age
Next two years, Tuskegee has growing interest in aeronautics
1936 - newspapers announce that Tuskegee planned to offer courses
in aviation Tuskegee was considered and ideal place for aviation training
for many reasons:
situated in deep south afforded excellent year-round
rural setting afforded ample underdeveloped land
for an airfield
aviation would complement school's traditional emphasis
on task-oriented vocational education
credibility of school would make it easier to enter
into a field that many whites felt blacks could not master
Booker T. Washington, graduate of Hampton Institute arrived at Tuskegee
to organize a normal school for
the training of black teachers in 1881 this aviation idea was only
a "fantastic dream in 1881 to Booker T. Washington..." according
to Robert Jakeman in The Divided Skies
In early 1881 Tuskegee was chartered by act of the Alabama legislature.
Three trustees had the responsibility too of
selecting a principal. Trustees wrote Samuel C. Armstrong asking for
a good white candidate Armstrong responded that he did not have a
white one, but strongly recommended Booker T. Washington. They selected
Booker T. Washington as new principal
July 4, 1881 despite limited resources, Washington was able to open
the school.he worked fast to get school on firm financial and educational
footing and he added industrial training courses such as carpentry,
masonry, blacksmithing, and housekeeping ["bricklaying at Hampton
Institute", from My Larger Education, 1911].
He saw Tuskegee as "a veritable cathedral of practical learning
and black self-help, a Hampton run entirely of black people"
(for more on his doctrine of self-help, see his article "The
Case of the Negro" published in the 1899 Atlantic Monthly)
By 1895 Tuskegee is well established
That same year Washington makes his famous speech at the Atlanta
Exposition and publishes his autobiography
Up From Slavery.
After the death of Booker T. Washington in 1915, Robert Russa Moton
is selected as principle by
trustees, who served as commandant of cadets at Hampton for 25 years.
Morton had ideologies different than Washington; saw himself as principal
first "...occasionally as a race leader, and only rarely as a
By 1915 Tuskegee is well established as a vocational school training
teachers, tradesmen and farmers, providing
courses at the high school level
1920 - Moton introduces college courses although no degrees were
1925 - Moton raises ten million dollars by having a joint campaign
fund-raiser with Hampton; this allowed the
construction of buildings for a new collegiate division
1927 - collegiate level was organized by Moton with courses such
as education, agriculture, and home economics. He argues that such
changes was needed in order to train future graduates to teach
September 1934 - Moton and administration supports plans for two black
aviators to do an air tour (Pan -
American) using plane christened as the Booker T. Washington; the
first time Tuskegee Institute is linked with a major aviation venture
1935 - Moton retires and Frederick Douglass Patterson becomes Tuskegee's
third president, differing very much from former presidents. Unlike
his predecessors who graduated from Hampton, Patterson brought professional
and academic credentials
Tuskegee continues on
Spring 1940 - Tuskegee had beginnings of aviation program thanks
to Civilian Training Program
"In the 1930s, America was dealing with the Depression, legal
segregation and blatant racism. These issues
made it difficult for Negro pilots to find jobs. But in 1939, about
20 Negro pilots came together and formed
the National Airmen's Association. They hoped to change the policies
that limited their options as pilots by
gaining public attention. They began holding air shows that amazed
the crowds with their daredevil tricks. In
May of 1939 the National Airmen's Association, with the help of the
Chicago Defender, a Negro newspaper,
sponsored Chauncey Spencer and Dale White on a 10-city tour. While
in Washington, D.C., the pilots met
and found an ally in a senator from Missouri, Harry S Truman. Along
with other congressmen, Truman
helped put through legislation that permitted black pilots to serve
in the Civilian Pilot Training Program."
G.L. Washington's ability to run CTP helps aviation to blossom at
focusses attention on securing airport
spoke with Asa Rountree, AlabamA Aviation Commission's
director of airfield development
January 1940 - Rountree visits Tuskegee
April 1940 - proposed airfield site selected
April 3, 1940 - state airport engineer, Draper,
advises Washington that airfield can be constructed
two grass landings perpendicular would accomodate
construction of site would cost $22,900
By early October 1940, ten secondary student's ground
and flight training had been completed
campaign continues to get blacks into Army Air
December 18, 1940 - Air Corps sends plans for training
and establishment of the black pursuit squadron at
January 6, 1941 - General Hap Arnold tells the Assistant
Secretary of War for Air that blacks could only be trained
selected because only possible place to start negro
training school in shortest amount of time
major facilities already available
no question of air congestion there
would allow school to be started with minimal delay
close enough for control and supervision by Maxwell
Field, Commanding General
January 9, 1941 - plan receives formal approval
of the Secretary of War
"...the era of the all-white air force had ended, and the day
of the segregated air force had arrived."
Towards end of 1941 flight training begins
Early November 1941 only 10 weeks of training, drew
to an end, only six of orginal thirteen remained in program
The flight training was only one phase of the training
of the 99th Squadron
March 1942 - the first black Americans earn the
wings of Air Corps pilots graduates form Tuskegee
The P51 in flight over Califfornia 1943, from the Library of Congress
In North Africa, the Tuskegee Airmen flew the P-51
Mustang escorting bombers.
As you can see, the military was very racist against blacks in the
military. How could one be a pilot if there was no
place for blacks to train? How could a young African-American fulfill
a dream if they did not have the motivations
nor the apparatus to do it? The Tuskegee Airmen proved the nation
wrong. They showed blacks and whites alike
that blacks were as capable as anyone else to fly and fight for their
country. Ben O. Davis, Jr. and his colleagues
were the spearhead of such thinking. If it wasn't for the 99th Squadron
who knows where blacks would be in the
military. Would they be pilots? You and I both know the answer to
Divided Skies, The : Establishing
Segregated Flight Training at Tuskegee, Alabama, 1934-1942, by RobertJ.
Jakeman. Tucaloosa : University of Alabama Press, 1992.
Tuskegee Airmen, The : the Men Who
Changed a Nation, by Charles E. Francis. Boston, MA : Branden Pub.
Co., 1988; 3rd ed., rev., up-dated and enlarged, Boston : Branden
Double V : the Civil Rights Struggle
of the Tuskegee Airmen, by Lawrence P. Scott, William M. Womack,
Sr. East Lansing : Michigan State University Press, 1994.
Lonely Eagles : the Story of America's
Black Air Force in World War II, by Robert A. Rose. Los Angeles
Tuskegee Airmen, Western Region, 1976.
Segregated Skies : All-Black Combat
Squadrons of WW II, by Stanley Sandler. Washington, D.C. :
Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992.
Booker T. Washington; the Making
of a Black Leader, 1856-1901, by Louis R. Harlan. New York, Oxford
University Press, 1972.
Booker T. Washington : the Wizard
of Tuskegee, 1901-1915, by Louis R. Harlan. New York : Oxford
University Press, 1983.
Booker T. Washington Papers, The,
Louis R. Harlan, editor. Urbana, University of Illinois Press,1972-1989.
My Larger Education, by Booker T.
Washington, New York: Doubleday, 1911.
America's First Black General : Benjamin
O. Davis, Sr., 1880-1970, by Marvin E. Fletcher ; with a foreword
by Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. Lawrence, Kan. : University Press of Kansas,
Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., American
: an Autobiography. Washington :Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991.
HAP : the Story of the U.S. Air Force
and the Man Who Built It, General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold,
Thomas M. Coffey. New York : Viking Press, 1982.
Blacks in the Army Air Forces during
World War II : the Problem of Race Relations, by Alan M. Osur.
Washington : Office of Air Force History : U.S. Govt. Print. Off.,
1977; and New York : Arno Press, 1980.
Employment of Negro Troops, The,
by Ulysses Lee. Washington, D.C. : Center of Military History, U.S.
Army, and Supt. of Docs., U.S. G.P.O., 1994.
Invisible Soldier, The : the Experience
of the Black Soldier, World War II, compiled and edited by Mary
Penick Motley ; with a foreword by Howard Donovan Queen. Detroit
: Wayne State University Press, 1975.
He, too, Spoke for Democracy : Judge
Hastie, World War II, and the Black Soldier, by Phillip McGuire.
York : Greenwood Press, 1988.
Liberators : Fighting on Two Fronts
in World War II, by Lou Potter with William Miles and Nina Rosenblum.
1st ed. New York : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992.
Tuskegee Airmen Page from Gary Carmichael
at the Discovery Channel School site
"Tuskegee Airman: Breaking the
Myths" by Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman, Chief of Staff, a speech
the Tuskegee Airmen Convention Banquet, Atlanta, Aug 12, 1995 (from
"Tuskegee Airmen present paintings
to the Air Force" by by Master Sgt. Merrie Schilter Lowe Sept.
1995 (from AirForceLINK) and photo of one of the paintings.
"Black pilots shatter myths"
by MSgt. Linda E. Brandon, Sept. 15, 1995 (from AirForceLINK)
"Tuskegee Airmen to convene
", Aug. 23, 1995 (from AirForceLINK)
"LORs removed from Tuskegee
Airmen's records" by Master Sgt. Merrie Schilter Low. Sept.
"CBI no place to be in 1945"
by TSgt. David P. Masko, Aug. 31, 1995 (from AirForceLINK)
"Tuskegee Airmen's dramatic
story lands flat" by Curt Schleier, The Detroit News, Aug.
"Black Airman's WWII Conviction
Overturned" (in "U.S. Briefs," CNN Oct. 22, 1995)
written by Davina Hoyt at the University of San Diego, August 25,
1995 - last modified March 11, 1996