The Tuskegee Airmen are the African American men and women who, during World War II, proved their courage, patriotism and capability despite the personal sacrifices they were forced to make. A dream of being able to fly and operate complex machinery motivated them to pursue a goal many felt they were incapable of achieving.
Discrimination and bigotry against Blacks was widespread in America, and the military was no exception. As the nation became aware of how Blacks were being mistreated, criticism of the government and its policies grew. Black newspapers in cities across the country, the NAACP and other groups voiced their disapproval. When First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt became aware of the problem she urged her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to intervene. The result was the authorization of an experiment: to see if Blacks could really perform as aviators.
Tuskegee, Alabama was chosen as the location for training the 99th Pursuit Squadron. In 1943, Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. commanded the 332nd Fighter Group comprised of the all-Black 100th, 301st and 302nd Fighter Squadrons. The record of the hundreds of successful missions they flew over Europe is unparalleled, causing these fighters to gain the respect of doubters and supporters alike.
The airmen continued to fight a battle in the U.S, as well. They fought for guarantees of equal rights for all Black Americans. A victory was won in 1948 when President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which desegregated the Armed Forces.
The Tuskegee Airmen held informal reunions around the country, for the purpose of reliving their World War II experiences and maintaining cherished friendships. In 1972, at a gathering in Detroit, MI, they established a national organization with chapters located in various cities. Membership was extended to airmen, as well as their supporters. This national organization was named the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.
The Northwest African American Museum has made available a new Curriculum for 7th – 12th Grades! Northwest Connection: The Tuskegee Airmen. Click the image above to access this wonderful learning experience