It’s hard to believe that, less than a century ago, African Americans were considered “unfit” for skilled military training or leadership roles. It took the bravery and commitment of the Tuskegee Airmen to dispel the U.S. military of that unfounded prejudice.
It was 1940, and Europe was already deeply mired in World War II. The U.S. Army Air Forces needed all the pilots it could train. The “Tuskegee Experiment” was specifically designed to test the ability of African Americans to fly and maintain military aircraft.
The Tuskegee Institute already had the equipment, facilities, instructors, and climate to support year-round aviation training. The African Americans who trained at Tuskegee met the same qualifications and standards required of white military aviators.
The Tuskegee Airmen were not just pilots. They trained and served as mechanics, navigators, bombardiers, clerks, and support staff. They worked together at Tuskegee, and in 1941, the first African-American squadron deployed to active duty.
Training continued through World War II, as the Tuskegee Airmen distinguished themselves time and again as fighters and as U.S. servicemen. Their courage and dedication in the face of widespread prejudice and discrimination helped advance the cause of African-American civil rights, including the desegregation of the military in 1948.
Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site tells the story of these brave and talented heroes. You can tour where the Airmen trained, see some of the planes they flew, and hear oral histories gathered from the Airmen themselves.
If You Go:
The Tuskegee Airmen Fly-In is an annual celebration held every Memorial Day at the Tuskegee Institute.