In today’s world, it’s easy to forget that racial equality has not always existed. In fact, various groups have had to fight for equal rights on many fronts throughout our history.
One such group was the Tuskegee Airmen. Before 1940, African Americans were not allowed to fly for the U.S. military. This was due to laws that allowed discrimination against African Americans. Discrimination means treating people differently for a certain reason, such as the color of their skin.
African Americans were discriminated against in many ways. For example, they didn’t have the same voting rights as others. Segregated (separate) schools, movie theaters and restaurants were other ways African Americans were discriminated against.
Some laws even required African Americans to sit at the back of public buses or give up their seats for white passengers. Things started to change when Rosa Parks took a stand against this type of discrimination.
With the help of civil rights organizations, African Americans were eventually given the chance to serve in the U.S. Army Air Corps, which was the organization that preceded our modern Air Force. The “Tuskegee Airmen,” as they were called, were all those who were involved in the “Tuskegee Experiment.”
The “Tuskegee Experiment” was the name of the Army Air Corps program that trained African Americans to maintain and fly combat airplanes. The Tuskegee Airmen included pilots, navigators, mechanics, instructors and all the other personnel needed to keep the planes flying.
Despite racial discrimination, the Tuskegee Airmen became the first African American pilots to fly for the U.S. military. The Tuskegee Airmen were officially the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps. The 332nd Fighter Group was the sole operational unit, seeing action as bomber escorts on many successful missions throughout Europe during World War II.
The Tuskegee Airmen flew several different aircraft, but they were closely associated with one plane: the P-51 Mustang. The pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group painted the tails of their planes red, which led to their common nickname: the “Red Tails.”
The Tuskegee Airmen proved that African Americans could maintain and fly sophisticated combat aircraft. As a highly-respected fighter group, they helped pave the way for full integration throughout the U.S. military.
In 1998, President Clinton signed Public Law 105-355 to establish the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site at Moton Field in Tuskegee, Alabama. The museum and interpretive programs at the historic Moton Field complex commemorate the heroism of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II.