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Tuskegee Airmen Essay, Research Paper

War, war is a term meaning; a concerted effort or campaign to combat or put an end to something considered injurious. In the dictionaries there aren?t any words of neither segregation, nor does it include that one race is inferior to others in times of war. Yet the United States government, a government that fought against racism in World War II, would not allow their armed forced to become integrated because they considered blacks, lazy, and unable to comprehend the strategic plans during wartime. Many black men, and women, traveled oversees to join the French Army where they learned hand to hand combat and received pilot licenses. Eugene Bullard and Bessie Coleman were the pioneers of black pilots, and the inspiration of the Tuskegee Airfield.

Booker T. Washington, graduate of Hampton Institute arrived at Tuskegee to organize a normal school for the training of black teachers in 1881. According to Robert Jakeman, author of Divided Skies, he stated ?this aviation idea was only a fantastic dream in 1881 to Booker T. Washington?. Booker T. Washington died in 1915, the trustees decided to make Robert Russa Moton President of Tuskegee Institute. Between 1915 and 1927 Moton applied new school training courses such as education, agriculture, and home economics, and in 1927 a collegiate level was organized.

On May 22, 1934 the first airplane landed on the grounds of Tuskegee Institute. John C. Robinson, an aspiring Chicago aviator, had chosen the occasion of his 10-year class reunion to make a dramatic aerial return to his alma mater. This marked the beginning of Tuskegee?s first attempt to enter the air age. Moton was fascinated by aeronautics, and also knew there were 100 black pilots that have been trained and licensed oversees. In September 1934 Moton and administration supported plans for two black aviators to do a Pan-American tour. Tuskegee receives support from several black newspapers, and one white. 1934 marks a memorable year for aviation at Tuskegee, this is the year that they become linked with a major aviation venture publicly. In 1936 Robinson returned from duty with the Ethiopian Air Force, serving as an instructor. Robinson offered his services to Moton and became Director of the School of Agriculture until an aviation program was implemented.

May 1939, 20 black pilots formed the National Airmen?s Association of America (NAAA). The goal of the NAAA was to change policies that limited their options as pilots by gaining attention with daredevil tricks, and quick maneuvers. With the help of the Chicago Defender, a black newspaper, they sponsored Chauncey Spencer and Dale White, two black pilots, on a 10-city tour. While in Washington the pilots met Harry S. Truman a senator from Missouri. They explained their efforts, and Truman helped put through legislation that permitted black pilots to serve in the Civilian Pilot Training Program. The US government implemented a Civilian Pilot Training Program headed by the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA) in September 1939. This was brought on because of the fear of the war spreading across the Atlantic waters. The CAA certified 220 US colleges & universities for participation. . The goal was to produce 20,000 private pilots a year. The government had a budget of $5,675,000 available to share for schooling 11,000 new fliers. Although Truman helped the legislation push towards allowing blacks participate in the CPT program, it took a lawsuit from a black student at Howard University to get the program started at several predominantly black schools.

US Congress enacted legislation to expand the Air Corps and train thousands in flying. On April 3, 1939, it was approved as Public Law 18, ?the primary legislative authorization for the Air Corps expansion program.? Public Law 18 authorized a maximum Air Corps strength of 6,000 airplanes, a significant increase considering that the total air strength came to only 1,401 in mid-1938. The law also authorized the army to expand its pilot training program by permitting the use of facilities at civilian flying schools for portions of the Air Corp flight-training curriculum. John C. Robinson proposed that the CPT program for African Americans be brought to Tuskegee. They already had a Reserve Officers? Training Corps program in place, which is officered, the first African American first lieutenant, who is a graduate of West Point. They also have a mechanical school at Tuskegee, which is headed by engineer G.L. Washington. John C. Robinson wrote many proposals to Congress explaining why Tuskegee would be the site to have the CPT military training program implemented at the Institute. He included in his letters information of the results of his three-year effort to establish the school. Robinson also assembled $19,000 of aviation equipment and had registered the school with the CAA. On October 15, 1939 Robert H. Hinckley, Chairman of the CAA, notified President Frederick D. Patterson, who succeeded Moton when he retired in 1935, that Tuskegee had been approved for participation in the CPT program. The reasons that were given was that, Tuskegee had the facilities, engineering and technical instructor, as well as a climate for year-round flying.

By the spring of 1940, thanks to the CPT program, Tuskegee had the beginnings of an aviation program. After a very shaky start, G.L. Washington?s efficient and enthusiastic work as Tuskegee?s CPT coordinator, together with the creditable performance of his students, had won the confidence of the CAA officials in Atlanta and Washington. By April, after its success was assured, G.L. Washington turned his full attention to the larger, more difficult problem of establishing a permanent flight training program at Tuskegee, one that did not rely on subleased airfields, flight training contracts with private operators, and borrowed ground instructors. Washington contacted the Alabama Aviation Commission?s director of airfield development, Asa Roundtree, Jr., and asked him to visit Tuskegee and confer with institute officials and representatives of the city regarding the establishment of an airport. Washington thought that the ?City of Tuskegee might be interested in joining with Tuskegee Institute in the development of a municipal airport at a suitable location in the town of Tuskegee.? He told Roundtree that he was ?certain that Tuskegee Institute would place at the disposal of the project any land that it has available? and pleaded with him to allow time on his visit to examine Tuskegee?s land as well as possible locations in the town of Tuskegee. Roundtree and his engineer, Owen Draper, examined the institute?s property and concluded that it was suitable and that the Aviation Commission would provide cost estimates on grading and construction. In order to qualify for federal funding under the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Roundtree suggested that the land be deeded to the Aviation Commission ?for the fear of future possible difficulties if deeded to the city of Tuskegee.? By the end of 1940 Tuskegee Institute owned a small fleet of airplanes, had hired a cadre of flight and ground school instructors, and offered a wide variety of flight training courses.

Many African Americans were attending college at the time of World War II, an once the aviation training program was admitted in civilian schools, black took the courses in hopes of one day becoming a pilot. By early October 1940, ten secondary student?s ground and training had been completed. Campaigns by Congress, Tuskegee Institute, and NAACP continue, to allow blacks into Army Air Corp. On December 18th, 1940, the United States Air Corps sends plans for training and establishment of the black pursuit squadron at Tuskegee. By January 6th, 1941, General Hap Arnold tells the Assistant Secretary of War for Air ?blacks could only be trained at Tuskegee.? January 9th, 1941 there are plans for formal approval of the ?Tuskegee Experiment,? by the Secretary of war, he stated, ?the era of all-white air force had ended, and the day of the segregated air force had arrived.?

The Army Air Corps had in mind to form only one African American fighter unit, the 99th fighter squadron, so they only needed 33 pilots. The idea was that it was ?quota?; they only wanted to train so many pilots. So, with thousands of volunteers, ?the selectivity and attrition rate was very high,? quoted Lt. Col. Herbert ?Gene? Carter, one of the original 28 pilots to graduate from the Tuskegee program. The total of approximately 100 men would be trained annually, and also had 271 enlisted men already in training at Chanute Field, Il, as ground crews for the 99th Squadron. These men were to be sent to Tuskegee upon completion of their training bringing the total to 278. On March 21st, 1941 the 99th Pursuit Squadron was activated when the first black recruits arrived at Chanute Field, Il. They were to begin training for ground and technical crew only. There was one person that perhaps pushed the activation of the Aviation Cadet Training at Tuskegee Army Flying School that was the April 19th, 1941 visit from Eleanor Roosevelt. Although her secret service men told her it wasn?t a good idea to fly with a ?Negro? she was determined to see if blacks were able to fly. She asked the would-be director of the program ?Can Negroes really fly airplanes?? His rely was ?Certainly we can; as a matter of fact, would you like to take a ride in an airplane?? Mrs. Roosevelt sat in the back seat of a Piper J-2 Cub; Chief Anderson took off and gave her a 30-minute tour of the campus and surrounding areas. Upon landing, Mrs. Roosevelt turned to the Chief and replied, ?I guess Negroes really can fly.? She returned to Washington and it announced a short time after that Tuskegee Institute would be the site at which the first Black Air Corps pilots would be trained.

The first class (42C) of black pilot trainees began Aviation Cadet Training at Tuskegee Army Flying School on July 19th, 1941. The Tuskegee Army Airfield (TAAF) was officially established on July 23rd, 1941. The Squadron received much criticism from politicians that did not believe black pilots would be efficient in the war. There were many reprimands for simple infractions, they never passed inspection, and commission was handed out ?sometimes.? Some cadets fell victim to the hazing, and dropped out of the program, others stayed for their pride would not let them quit. The Tuskegee airmen represented more than just black pilots they were making history daily. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., became the first black American to solo an aircraft as an officer in the US Army Air Corps on September 2nd, 1941. Out of the original 13 cadets only five graduated from the program, they were Benjamin O. Davis Jr., Lemuel R. Custis, Charles DeBrow, George S. Roberts, and Mac Ross (from Dayton, Ohio). They graduated SE-42-C on March 6th, 1942.

Although they graduated and received their wings in 1942, they were not able to participate in air combat. They were ?iced? for more than nine months. While they continued their training new cadets were arrived and a new Squadron was formed, the 332nd. Although they had proved that they had knowledge of the planes in which they flew and a strong background in the mechanical structure of the planes, the Secretary of War and other Congress members felt as if they would not be significant in combat. There were ?studies? done that suggested that black pilots blacked out at high altitudes, their blood level was low and unable to travel long distances. The officers that were in charge of the TAAF training fought for the 99th, and 332nd to be allowed in combat. It wasn?t until June 1943, when the Squadron arrived in Africa that they saw any action. Their duties consisted of bombing stable targets such as trains transporting weapons, artillery, etc., Army Fields, and Army Bases. On January 11th, 1943 was the first time in history that air power won the surrender of a ground target, and this was due to the strike from the 99th Squadron. At this time in 1943, the black Army pilots still have not earned respect from many of their white counterparts and much of the American nation. By the end of 1945, the 99th, 332nd, and 100th, and 301st, had a total of 423 targets destroyed, and 823 damaged targets making them very successful. They had more individual missions than there white counterparts, whom were sent home after 50 missions, some black pilots flew over 60. The airmen became known as the ?Red Wings? because they painted their wings and nose the color bright red. This was to distinguish themselves from other American fighter units. They began to become escorts for bomber planes, and were considered ?angels? by the bomber pilots. Not once did they loose a bomber plane during the time they escorted them.

Once the war ended, after the surrender of Germany and Japan, the 99th, 100th, and 301st Squadrons returned home. Many of the white officers that returned home were greeted in the street with cheers, hugs, and kisses from beautiful women. The scene was different when the black pilots and crewmen returned to the home front; America still did not recognize them as ?sufficient? combat pilots. Although many of the pilots received purple hearts, legion of merit, silver star, solider metal, flying cross, bronze star, and air metal and clusters. By the end of the war there were 992 pilots that graduated from Tuskegee.

The Tuskegee airmen not only opened the doors for black Americans, but they also told the nation that ?we aren?t going to be looked down upon any more.? These men and women stood proud and strong through all of the hatred, and riots that ensued because of their participation in the American Armed Forces. Not only did they change history for America they changed history for the World; we must remember that they protected our bomber planes that had targets to be destroyed. They were able to take out ground targets that prevented thousands of weapons to be deployed to the enemy. These men looked prejudice and hatred in the eye and stepped on it. They proved to the America that blacks are not inferior, we are equal.

Men of the 99th Fighter Squadron and of the 332nd Fighter Group, these were brave black men who had to endure the rigors of pilot training and go on and win their wings against the forces of home-grown bigotry. It wasn?t until November 6th, 1998 that Tuskegee was honored as an historic site by the United States government. President Clinton approved Public Law 105-355, which established the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site at Moton Field in Tuskegee, Alabama, to commemorate and interpret the heroic actions of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. These men served their country proud and with open arms, yet they were not accepted the same way. Many still do not know the story of our Tuskegee Airmen, the lesson is not taught in school on any level, and there aren?t any national holidays. Our lonely eagles, how long will they continue to be forgotten?

FYI: Total Killed in Action: 66

Total Mission: 1578

Total Sorties: 15533

Total Pilots sent oversees: 450


1. Divided Skies, The: Establishing Segregated Flight Training at Tuskegee, Alabama, 1934-1942, by Robert J. Jakeman. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1992

2. Tuskegee Airmen, The: the Men Who Changed a Nation, by Charles E. Francis. Boston, MA: Branden Publishing Co., 1988 3rd ed., rec., up-dated and enlarged, Boston: Branden Publishing Co., 1993

3. Double V: the Civil Rights Struggle of the Tuskegee Airmen, by Lawrence P. Scott, William M. Womack, Sr. East Lansing: Michigan State press, 1994

4. 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

5. Segregated Skies: All-Black Combat Squadrons of WWII, by Stanley Sandler. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992

6. Booker T. Washington: the Wizard of Tuskegee, 1901-1915, by Louis R. Harlan. New York, Oxford University Press, 1972

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