Tuskegee Airmen: Accomplishments not forgotten

  • Published
  • By Dr. Dennis Edwards, Ph. D.
  • Edwards Meta Consultant
At a time when Black Americans worked mostly as waiters and shoeshine boys, Lt. Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. was commander of the Tuskegee Airmen, a unit created in 1941 that provided Black Americans an opportunity to prove their capabilities as combat pilots and crews.

The unit was instituted by then-president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and began as an all-black Army Air Corps unit responsible for escorting bombers into the European Theater during World War II.

The decision to institute this unit was met with skepticism and many people expected their failure. There was a belief at the time that black men lacked the intelligence, skill and courage necessary to become combat pilots. This disbelief in the Tuskegee Airmen's abilities involved them in two wars at the same time: one against prejudice and Germany.

Even though they fought for the same cause as white men, the Tuskegee Airmen lived in segregated barracks, ate in separate dining facilities and worked on separate flight lines.
Despite these conditions, the unit proved they were first-rate mechanics and succeeded in never losing a bomber to enemy fighters.

There were 450 black pilots sent into combat, they flew more than15,000 sorties, they destroyed 251 enemy aircraft, sunk one German warship and destroyed thousands of misconceptions of what a black pilot was capable of. They were awarded hundreds of medals, including 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses.

Their many achievements spoke volumes, and President Harry Truman listened. In 1948, he desegregated the armed forces, taking another step toward true equality in America.

The Tuskegee Airmen continued the Civil Rights Movement in the skies over Europe; helping defeat Adolph Hitler in Germany and the Jim Crow laws in America. These Airmen shattered the race barrier by doing what some people referred to as a "test case" to become the first all-black fighter squadron in the Air Force. We honor them as we celebrate Black History Month.