Tuskegee Airmen of World War II

Tuskegee Airmen 332nd Fighter Group pilots, March 1945, from LC

During WWII there were many men that were forgotten. The Tuskegee Airmen made a major contribution. Where did they come from? Jakeman's book, "The Divided Skies" recollects where the Tuskegee Airmen came from. It is he who goes in depth about the Tuskegee Institute and its formation, which ultimately gives birth to the Tuskegee Airmen. After their superb flight training, there were a select few that made a major impact in the war through their excellent piloting skills. These men are known today as the Tuskegee Airmen.

March 1942 - Tuskegee Army Air Field, Alabama

Before these five men entered the program, blacks were continuosly excluded from aviation training programs in the military

By the end of WWII, almost 1,000 African-Americans had won their wings at Tuskegee Army Air Field. Not until 1948 did the first Black American received the gold wings of a Navy pilot

As you can see, racial exclusion in the Navy continued on many years after the first black men graduated from Tuskegee

Approximately half of the black men that graduated from Tuskegee fought in the European and Mediterranean wars as combat mission fighter pilots

The Tuskegee Airmen have a respectable record in combat:

Why Tuskegee?

1939 - The establishment of an aviation course at Tuskegee

The aviation course was a direct result of blacks crusade to be included into the nation's military

The Air Corps drew its strength from three important sources

"Books are Weapons. Read About...The Negro in National Defense; Africa and the War; Negro History and Culture" - J.P. (signed) New York, NY Silk-screen poster Prints and Photographs Division (67), Library of Congress

The early months of 1939

There were amendments to Public Law 18 which allowed the Air Corps to be expanded

The 1940 campaign put a lot of pressure on the military

A Brief Overview of Aviation and Tuskegee Institute

detail from The Lincoln Gates at Tuskegee c1906, from the Library of Congress

Next two years, Tuskegee has growing interest in aeronautics

1936 - newspapers announce that Tuskegee planned to offer courses in aviation

Tuskegee was considered and ideal place for aviation training for many reasons:

Booker T. Washington, graduate of Hampton Institute arrived at Tuskegee to organize a normal school for the training of black teachers in 1881 (photo at right from My Larger Education, 1911)

In early 1881 Tuskegee was chartered by act of the Alabama legislature. Three trustees had the responsibility to of selecting a principal

July 4, 1881 despite limited resources, Washington was able to open the school:

["bricklaying at Hampton Institute", from My Larger Education, 1911]

By 1895 Tuskegee was well established

After the death of Booker T. Washington in 1915, Robert Russa Moton is selected as principle by trustees (photo at right from My Larger Education, 1911)

By 1915 Tuskegee is well established as a vocational school training teachers, tradesmen and farmers, providing courses at the high school level

Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Ala., April 5th, 1918, from LC

1920 - Moton introduces college courses although no degrees were conferred

1925 - Moton raises ten million dollars by having a joint campaign fund-raiser with Hampton; this allowed the construction of buildings for a new collegiate division

1927 - collegiate level was organized by Moton

September 1934 - Moton and administration supports plans for two black aviators to do an air tour (Pan - American)

1935 - Moton retires and Frederick Douglass Patterson becomes Tuskegee's third president

Tuskegee continues on

Spring 1940 - Tuskegee had beginnings of aviation program thanks to Civilian Training Program

G.L. Washington's ability to run CTP helps aviation to blossom at Tuskegee

January 1940 - Rountree visits Tuskegee

April 1940 - proposed airfield site selected

April 3, 1940 - state airport engineer, Draper, advises Washington that airfield can be constructed

By early October 1940, ten secondary student's ground and flight training had been completed

December 18, 1940 - Air Corps sends plans for training and establishment of the black pursuit squadron at Tuskegee

January 6, 1941 - General Hap Arnold tells the Assistant Secretary of War for Air that blacks could only be trained at Tuskegee

January 9, 1941 - plan receives formal approval of the Secretary of War

Towards end of 1941 flight training begins

Early November 1941 only 10 weeks of training, drew to an end, only six of orginal thirteen remained in program

The flight training was only one phase of the training of the 99th Squadron

March 1942 - the first black Americans earn the wings of Air Corps pilots graduates form Tuskegee

The P51 in flight over Califfornia 1943, from the Library of Congress

In North Africa, the Tuskegee Airmen flew the P-51 Mustang escorting bombers.


As you can see, the military was very racist against blacks in the military. How could one be a pilot if there was no place for blacks to train? How could a young African-American fulfill a dream if they did not have the motivations nor the apparatus to do it? The Tuskegee Airmen proved the nation wrong. They showed blacks and whites alike that blacks were as capable as anyone else to fly and fight for their country. Ben O. Davis, Jr. and his colleagues were the spearhead of such thinking. If it wasn't for the 99th Squadron who knows where blacks would be in the military. Would they be pilots? You and I both know the answer to this question!


  1. Divided Skies, The : Establishing Segregated Flight Training at Tuskegee, Alabama, 1934-1942, by Robert J. Jakeman. Tucaloosa : University of Alabama Press, 1992.
  2. Tuskegee Airmen, The : the Men Who Changed a Nation, by Charles E. Francis. Boston, MA : Branden Pub. Co., 1988; 3rd ed., rev., up-dated and enlarged, Boston : Branden Pub. 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 University 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 WW II, by Stanley Sandler. Washington, D.C. : Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992.
  6. Booker T. Washington; the Making of a Black Leader, 1856-1901, by Louis R. Harlan. New York, Oxford University Press, 1972.
  7. Booker T. Washington : the Wizard of Tuskegee, 1901-1915, by Louis R. Harlan. New York : Oxford University Press, 1983.
  8. Booker T. Washington Papers, The, Louis R. Harlan, editor. Urbana, University of Illinois Press,1972-1989.
  9. My Larger Education, by Booker T. Washington, New York: Doubleday, 1911.
  10. America's First Black General : Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., 1880-1970, by Marvin E. Fletcher ; with a foreword by Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. Lawrence, Kan. : University Press of Kansas, 1989.
  11. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., American : an Autobiography. Washington :Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991.
  12. HAP : the Story of the U.S. Air Force and the Man Who Built It, General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, by Thomas M. Coffey. New York : Viking Press, 1982.
  13. Blacks in the Army Air Forces during World War II : the Problem of Race Relations, by Alan M. Osur. Washington : Office of Air Force History : U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1977; and New York : Arno Press, 1980.
  14. Employment of Negro Troops, The, by Ulysses Lee. Washington, D.C. : Center of Military History, U.S. Army, and Supt. of Docs., U.S. G.P.O., 1994.
  15. Invisible Soldier, The : the Experience of the Black Soldier, World War II, compiled and edited by Mary Penick Motley ; with a foreword by Howard Donovan Queen. Detroit : Wayne State University Press, 1975.
  16. He, too, Spoke for Democracy : Judge Hastie, World War II, and the Black Soldier, by Phillip McGuire. New York : Greenwood Press, 1988.
  17. Liberators : Fighting on Two Fronts in World War II, by Lou Potter with William Miles and Nina Rosenblum. 1st ed. New York : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992.

Additional Links:

  1. Tuskegee Airmen Page from Gary Carmichael at the Discovery Channel School site
  2. "Tuskegee Airman: Breaking the Myths" by Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman, Chief of Staff, a speech delivered at the Tuskegee Airmen Convention Banquet, Atlanta, Aug 12, 1995 (from AirForceLINK)

  3. "Tuskegee Airmen present paintings to the Air Force" by by Master Sgt. Merrie Schilter Lowe Sept. 12, 1995 (from AirForceLINK) and photo of one of the paintings.
  4. "Black pilots shatter myths" by MSgt. Linda E. Brandon, Sept. 15, 1995 (from AirForceLINK)
  5. "Tuskegee Airmen to convene ", Aug. 23, 1995 (from AirForceLINK)
  6. "LORs removed from Tuskegee Airmen's records" by Master Sgt. Merrie Schilter Low. Sept. 12, 1995 (from AirForceLINK)
  7. "CBI no place to be in 1945" by TSgt. David P. Masko, Aug. 31, 1995 (from AirForceLINK)
  8. "Tuskegee Airmen's dramatic story lands flat" by Curt Schleier, The Detroit News, Aug. 26, 1995
  9. "Black Airman's WWII Conviction Overturned" (in "U.S. Briefs," CNN Oct. 22, 1995)

    [photo from CNN Oct. 22, 1995]

    written by Davina Hoyt for the WWII Timeline, August 25, 1995 - last modified May 15, 2007