Before the 1960s (and actually later in many parts of the country), much of the US was officially segregated. White and black citizens couldn’t live in the same neighborhoods, sit in the same sections of public transit, or even attend school together. This Black History Month, let’s meet the brave men who helped to pave the way for racial equality in the US.
The US Armed Forces were the same during World War II. African-Americans mostly served in non-combat roles. In fact, in 1941 there were less than 4,000 African-Americans serving in the military, including just 12 officers. But heavy losses forced the US military to move African-Americans into combat roles as tankers, infantrymen, and medics. And pilots!
Money had already been designated to train African-American pilots during the years before 1940, but had been funneled through civilian training programs. Tuskegee Institute had been one of those civilian pilot training programs.
When the Army Air Corps established the 99th Pursuit Squadron in 1941, Tuskegee was outfitted to serve as a training airfield. The pilots were supported by ground and flight crews.
The unit was deemed ready in the spring of 1943, and they met with great success. The pace of training at Tuskegee rapidly produced more trained pilots and crews, and lead to the creation of the 332nd Flight Squadron.
By the end of the war, 996 pilots and 15,000 ground personnel had been trained and served in the all-black units. They earned a combined 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses and flew 1,500 combat missions.
Their success was highly publicized. It is often cited as one of the main factors leading to the desegregation of the US Armed Forces in 1948 by President Harry Truman.
While there were still many bumps and setbacks along the way, this was the beginning of racial equality in the US.
We don’t often hear or learn about these groundbreaking units and brave Americans. If the Tuskegee Airmen are covered at all, it might be just a one-liner or an aside. So take the initiative yourself!
There are many great books out there to help teach youngsters about the Tuskegee Airmen.
How to you teach the diverse American experience to your children or students?