Freedom Flyers

“Can you imagine… with war clouds as heavy as they were over Europe, a citizen of the United States would have to sue its government to be accepted to train so he could fly and fight and die for his country” (Bard 187). In 1925 there was a study stating that African Americans were incapable of serving in the army; with segregation still occurring in the late 1930’s, African Americans couldn’t give the ultimate sacrifice for their country because they were prohibited from joining the Airforce.

After the war began in 1939, many African Americans were a necessity to winning the war, and the United States realized that the nation would have to unite in order to survive. Ultimately, the Tuskegee Airmen were a group of African American men who joined and proved successful, an experiment by Franklin Roosevelt to see if blacks could perform as well as whites in the Air Force during World War II. First of all, The NAACP wanted to defeat racial segregation after World War II began in 1939 so an experiment was conducted. The United States quickly realized that victory depended on constant supplies and ships. America’s necessity of winning opened up the economy to millions of blacks; the Nation would have to unite to succeed.

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In 1925 the Army War College conducted a study that found blacks incapable of serving in the army because they lacked intelligence and were too cowardly in combat. President Franklin Roosevelt conducted an experiment, an experiment to see if African Americans could perform as well as white soldiers in the Air Force. They started training in 1941 at a pilot training center in Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute. Many of the Tuskegee pilots were from the North and had no experience with the Jim Crow Laws in the South, “From the beginning of the “experiment” at Tuskegee they faced opposition from within the top ranks of the AAF, this opposition persisted throughout the war even determining combat assignments”(McLaurin). Alabama brought humiliation to the flyers, most of the Cadets on days off or breaks refused to go out into town because of the Jim Crow Laws and the way they were being treated by whites.

Segregation in the south affected the efficiency of the training, “Trainees who washed out at Tuskegee but who could have served as navigators or bombardiers, for example, had no opportunities until, under intense pressure from civilian rights advocates, the AAF finally established the 477th Medium Bombardment Group in 1944” (McLaurin). Many of the Trainees at the Tuskegee Institute dropped out due to the rigorous pressure of the training or to the unfair and unfamiliar Jim Crow Laws. Conclusively, the point of the Tuskegee experiment was to test if African Americans could perform as well as white soldiers in the Air Force. However, the trainees were faced with many difficulties in the South. In addition, at the Tuskegee Institute, the instructors were fair, and they didn’t treat the Tuskegee flyers differently than the white pilots. The school was chosen for its commitment to aeronautical training, its facilities, and engineering instructors.

The operation, known as the Tuskegee experiment, was designed to determine the ability of African American men can perform as pilots. The experiment had more than 15,000 members. Although the instructors were fair, the Cadets were still disgraced in several ways; they were discluded from the officer club and were forced to live in separate but equal facilities; which Harry Truman later declared segregation in the military illegal in 1948. The Cadets, who were later known as the Tuskegee Airmen, became one of the most highly respected squadrons of the war, disproving stereotypes. The Tuskegee National Park claimed,”With arguably one of the country’s best aviation training programs and the Army Air Corps’ first-ever effort to recruit African Americans, Tuskegee Institute quickly became the center of African American military pilots during World War II” (“Tuskegee “). The popularity of the program and government support for advanced training led the military to establish a segregated base, The Tuskegee Army Air Field, to recruit and train African American pilots.

During Franklin Roosevelt’s Presidency, the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt took great interest in the Tuskegee Airmen. She sternly requested to fly with one of the African American pilots, Charles Alfred Anderson who flew with the First Lady for over an hour. Eleanor Roosevelt remembered, “Flying with Anderson demonstrated the depth of Eleanor Roosevelt’s support for Black pilots and the Institute Training Program” (“Eleanor”). This boosted the institute’s visibility to America. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt established and maintained long-term communication with some of the airmen.

Additionally, pertaining to the Training program at the Tuskegee Institute, in 1942 the Airmen graduated. Their first mission as pilots were commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Davis, the first Black officer; sent the Airmen to North Africa for combat duty. The transition from training to actual combat wasn’t smooth but, the Tuskegee Airmen overcame the transition to complete a successful mission. Three other black squadrons were later added onto the original 99th fighter squadron. The Tuskegee Airmen operated mostly in Italy, they shot down 251 enemy planes and logged more than 15,000 sorties.

They acted as bomb escorts, none of the bombers escorted were ever shot down. To the Germans, they were known as Schwartze Volgelmenschen, or the Black Birdmen. Out of the 1,000 African American men trained at Tuskegee, they lost 66 men and 33 had been taken, prisoner. They flew over a hundred missions in the Korean War and over seventy in Vietnam. Conclusively, their achievements proved that the Tuskegee Airmen were highly capable fighters.

They earned the respect of fellow bomber crews and of military leaders. Furthermore, many Tuskegee Airmen became strong leaders in the military. Benjamin Oliver Davis Jr., the founder of the Tuskegee Airmen, “His father, Benjamin O. Davis Sr.

, was the First African American in any branch of the U.S Military”(“Benjamin”). Born in 1912, he was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1944 and was the Commander of the all-black fighter squad at the request of President Franklin Roosevelt. Davis became the first black three-star general. He died on July 4th, 2002.

Another historically significant Airmen was Daniel “Chappie” James. His mother was a teacher who taught young African American children in their backyard. He had planned to go to the Tuskegee Institute but unfortunately, his father died before James graduated high school. This was hard on James, and on his senior year, he pushed his administrators too far and was expelled, “James expulsion proved to be a blessing in disguise”(“Daniel”). A civilian pilot training for African Americans had been established. James qualified and not only learned how to fly, but taught other trainees.

In 1943, he was commissioned as Second Lieutenant. Last but not least, Charles “Chief” Anderson; as a young boy, he was always fascinated by planes. He may be famous for flying with the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, but his accomplishments that led up to the flight some historians say eclipses his flight with the First Lady. When he was 20, he had enough money saved for flying lessons. Unfortunately, being African American the only people who could have taught him were whites, but they refused the help Anderson in his quest to become a pilot. Anderson didn’t give up—he hung around airports, learned airplane mechanics, and picked up information wherever he could find.

Anderson realized that the only way he would fly is if he owned his own airplane. With loans and personal savings, he purchased a Velie Monocoupe. He taught himself to take off and land safely. In 1929, Anderson earned a pilot’s license and was recruited by the Tuskegee Institute. Anderson became the Civilian flight instructor and taught the first advanced course, teaching the African American Airmen. Eleanor Roosevelt knew of this flight program and asked to meet with the chief instructor.

Eleanor Roosevelt had always heard that “colored people couldn’t fly”. Despite protest from many, she asked Anderson for a flight. The flight was successful and Anderson lived on to provide ground and flight training to black and white soldiers. And in 1967 he co-founded the Negro Airmen International. In 1996 he died due to bad health. Overall, these three Tuskegee Airmen were historically significant figures because they became strong inspirational leaders both in the military and at home, and fought for the things that they believe in.

Lastly, the Tuskegee Airmen won 850 awards, and their success led to the 1948 decision by President Harry Truman to eliminate racial segregation. Overall they won 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, eight Purple Hearts, fourteen Bronze Stars, and 744 Air Medals. McLaurin, a historian stated, “The oral histories reveal the experiences of and the emotions felt by these men who served their country, helped destroy Jim Crow Laws, and in the process, created a legend” (“Freedom”). Most of the men never sought fame or fortune but they touched the lives of thousands of pilots, civilian and military. The Tuskegee Airmen not only won awards but, “Altogether, 992 pilots graduated from the Tuskegee Airfield courses, and they flew 1,578 missions and 15, 533 sorties, destroyed 261 enemy aircraft, and won more than 850 metals” (“Tuskegee”).

The Tuskegee Airmen are one of the most honored squadrons in US history. Ultimately, the Tuskegee Airmen won many awards which led to Harry Truman’s decision to end racial segregation. In conclusion, the Tuskegee experiment was one of the most highly respected squadrons, disproving stereotypes of the concept that all African Americans were unable to operate advanced machinery. These heroes were a group of individuals who helped defeat racial segregation after World War II began in 1939.American historians explain that the Tuskegee Airmen “paved the way for full integration of U.S military” (“Tuskegee Airmen National”).

The Tuskegee Airmen left a legacy for the future generations. They’ve won over 850 awards and had many great accomplishments throughout World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam. For over 300 years, African Americans have played a significant role in U.S. history, as slaves, then as underprivileged citizens. The African culture in sports, in music, and what they will soon be inspired to become; great leaders such as Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X.

The Tuskegee Airmen overcame segregation to touch the lives of many aspiring African Americans, which led to the spark for the Civil Rights movement approximately decade later.