Tuskegee Airmen

The Tuskegee Airmen were African-American pilots and crew-members who were trained by the Army Air Corps at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, one of the oldest and most prestigious institutes of higher learning for African Americans.

Traditionally African Americans had been barred from service in the Army Air Corps, and only a massive protest by the African-American press the first aviation cadet class began in July 1941 and completed training nine months later in March 1942. After this success, the Tuskegee program was expanded, becoming the center for training African-American aviators during World War II. They formed the 332nd Fighter Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps and its four squadrons, the 99th, the 100th, the 301st and the 302nd.

The Tuskegee Airmen included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors, and all the personnel who kept the planes in the air. Despite continuing segregation and racism in the U.S. military, these men were among the most highly respected fighter groups of World War II. From 1943 on they flew over 1,500 missions in Europe and North Africa and pilots such as Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., one of the few African-American West Point graduates at the time, became iconic figures in U.S. History.

Tuskegee Airmen shot down 112 German planes and proved conclusively that African Americans could be trained to fly and maintain sophisticated combat aircraft. The Tuskegee Airmen’s achievements, together with the men and women who supported them, paved the way for full integration of the U.S. military after World War II.

Further Reading

– Broadnax, Samuel L. Blue Skies, Black Wings: African American Pioneers of Aviation. (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2007).

– Bucholtz, Chris and Jim Laurier: 332nd Fighter Group – Tuskegee Airmen (London: Osprey Publishing, 2007).

– Moye, Todd J.: Freedom Flyers: The Tuskegee Airmen of World War II (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

– Scott, Lawrence P. and William M. Womack: Double V: The Civil Rights Struggle of the Tuskegee Airmen (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1994).