More than an experiment

Prior to 1940, there wasn’t a single African American pilot flying for the United States Military. The United States and its military were segregated and the laws of Jim Crow ruled the land. Despite making significant contributions to military history, we were still denied the opportunity to hold leadership roles and skilled training because some felt the color of our skin made us inadequate for combat duty.

In 1939, with the global conflict known as World War II raging in Europe, increased pressure from the NAACP, A. Phillip Randolph, the Black press and many others Congress finally passed a bill to appropriate funds to train African-American fighter pilots. However, the War Department was reluctant to allocate the funds toward the training of Negros and instead diverted funds to flight schools willing to train Blacks.  Exclusionary practices by the War Department in the selection criteria to participate in the new fighter squadron proved futile since many of the applicants had receive prior training in the Civilian Pilot Training Program conducted at the Tuskegee Institute, a historically Black College or University (HBCU).

The Tuskegee Airmen officially began in June, 1941 with the 99th Pursuit Squadron at the Tuskegee Institute. The unit would originally consist of 47 officers, 429 enlisted men and backed by a full service wing. Tuskegee became the only Army instillation with all four phases of pilot training in one facility.

The Tuskegee Airmen for love of country, honor and commitment are accredited with 15,533 combat sorties, 311 missions, destroying 262 German aircraft, 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 14 Bronze Stars, 8 Purple Hearts and a myriad of accolades. Flying bomber escorts for the Allied Forces earned the Tuskegee Airmen the call sign of Red Tails (for their distinctive crimson paint on their tail section).

On March 29, 2007, nearly 300 Tuskegee Airmen (or their widows) received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President George W. Bush and the airfield where they trained is now a national historic site. The Tuskegee Airmen were among America’s best and have earned a place in history, worldwide.  Remember their courageous spirit and honor them by never forgetting how far we’ve come or how far we have yet to go.


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