How the Tuskegee Airmen Became Pioneers of Black Military Aviation

How the Tuskegee Airmen Became Pioneers of Black Military Aviation

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On March 19, 1941, the U.S. War Department established the 99th Pursuit Squadron, which, along with a few other squadrons formed later, became better known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Consisting of America’s first Black military pilots, these units confronted racism at home in addition to the enemy abroad. Yet despite the extra obstacles, they would go on to compile an exemplary record in the Mediterranean and European theaters of World War II and pave the way for desegregation of the military.

Though African Americans had fought in every major U.S. conflict dating back to the Revolutionary War, they were traditionally confined to menial jobs and kept separated from white soldiers. As late as 1925, an Army War College report called them “a sub-species of the human family” that performed poorly as soldiers due to their cowardly, subservient, superstitious, amoral and mentally inferior nature.

Black advocacy groups and newspapers attempted to counter such pseudoscience. But as World War II approached, the military remained staunchly opposed both to integration and to putting Black men in positions of authority. In 1940, for example, U.S. Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, who would later win the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the Marshall Plan, remarked that now was “not the time for critical experiments, which would inevitably have a highly destructive effect on morale.” The navy and war secretaries agreed, with the latter writing that “leadership is not embedded in the Negro race yet” and that mixing white and Black troops would be “trouble.”

Not surprisingly, given the political climate, Black aviators were barred from flying in the U.S. Army Air Corps (the predecessor to the Air Force). In fact, they rarely entered any cockpits at all. Census records show that only a few dozen licensed black pilots lived in the entire United States prior to World War II. That number finally began to rise when several historically black colleges were included in the Civilian Pilot Training Program, which Congress created in 1939 to ensure that pilots would be available should war break out.

Even then, the Air Corps remained opposed to admitting Black recruits. But in 1940, Republican presidential nominee Wendell Willkie promised to desegregate the military, prompting his opponent, Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to authorize the enlistment of African American aviators, among other modest civil rights concessions aimed at keeping the Black vote. On January 16, 1941, it was then announced that an all-Black fighter pilot unit would be trained at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, a historically black college founded by Booker T. Washington.

'Tuskegee Airmen: Legacy of Courage' premieres Wednesday, February 10 at 8/7c. Watch a preview now.

The War Department officially established the 99th Pursuit Squadron (later renamed the 99th Fighter Squadron) on March 19, 1941, and it activated the unit three days later. Before the first cadets even arrived, the program got a publicity boost when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was taken up in a plane by C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson, a Black aviation pioneer who served as the Tuskegee Institute’s chief flight instructor.

Nonetheless, many top military officials, including the war secretary, reportedly expected the Tuskegee experiment to fail. Local whites also expressed opposition, at one point nearly initiating a race riot following a tense confrontation with an armed Black military policeman. Meanwhile, about 100 whites signed a petition lamenting that the Tuskegee Army Air Field—which was built at great expense purely so that preexisting army air fields wouldn’t have to integrate—might cut off the “only outlet of expansion for white citizens of Tuskegee.”

READ MORE: How Tuskegee Airmen Fought Military Segregation With Nonviolent Action

Living primarily in primitive tents, the inaugural class of Tuskegee pilots studied such subjects as radio code, navigation and meteorology, while also taking to the air for more hands-on learning. Of the 13 original cadets, five made it graduation in March 1942, including Benjamin O. Davis Jr., who would eventually become the unit’s commander.

More graduations quickly followed, and the program was expanded to comprise not only the 99th Fighter Squadron, but also the 100th, 301st and 302nd fighter squadrons, which together made up the 332nd Fighter Group. (Also considered Tuskegee Airmen are the black bomber pilots of the 477th Bombardment Group, as well as all support personnel.)

Overall, 992 pilots completed the Tuskegee training program, nearly half of whom were then shipped overseas, where they gained fame for their unparalleled success at escorting bombers on long-range raids deep into Nazi-controlled territory. Flying some 1,600 missions and destroying over 260 enemy aircraft, the Tuskegee Airmen helped lay the foundation for President Harry S. Truman’s decision to desegregate the armed forces in 1948.

READ MORE: 6 Renowned Tuskegee Airmen

WATCH: 'Tuskegee Airmen' on HISTORY Vault


At the beginning of WWII, all branches of the military were racially divided. In 1941, the U.S. Army established a segregated training program for African American pilots in Tuskegee, Alabama, called “The Tuskegee Experiment.” The dedicated young men who volunteered to become the USA’s first black military airmen would be known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

Although the Tuskegee pilots flew four types of airplanes, the most famous was the P-51 Mustang. It was the fastest fighter airplane at the time and was perfect for guarding bombers on escort missions into enemy territory. To make their airplanes easy to see in the sky, the Tuskegee pilots painted the airplane's tail bright red, earning them the nickname of “Redtails.”

African Americans fought a war on two fronts in World War II: against fascism abroad and against white supremacy at home. In 1945, the 477th Bombardment Group was assigned to Freeman Field in Indiana, where segregationist policies were increasing tension between white and black personnel.

Eatonton’s own Hiram E. Little, (1919-2017), was one of the young men who enlisted in the Tuskegee Aviation Program. He trained as an aircraft armorer, became a ground crew instructor, and was promoted to Flight Officer. In 1944, he was assigned to the 477th Bombardment Group as a B-25 bomber crewmember. In 1945, Little was also one of 101 Tuskegee Airmen who refused to obey an order barring black aviators from the officers’ club, a refusal that became known as the Freeman Field Mutiny.

The Tuskegee Airmen, along with other African American military men and women, laid the groundwork for the civil rights movement. They led President Harry Truman to integrate the military in 1948, helping bring about the desegregation of the United States Armed Forces.

On March 29, 2007, President George W. Bush and the U.S. Congress awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to each Tuskegee Airman or to his family.

Be sure to visit our events page for more information on two FREE exhibits that celebrate and honor the Tuskegee Airmen. These exhibits will be on display from November 2020 - January 2021.

The Program at Tuskegee

"Hands down, Tuskegee was much harder," says Harold Hoskins, shaking his head.

As a former student both at Tuskegee and later at an integrated pilot school at Texas' Randolph Air Force Base, and having served under Colonel Benjamin Davis and logged 9500 flight hours in the Air Force, Hoskins is in a unique position to compare both experiences. Since retiring from the Air Force, he has become Assistant V.P. of Student Affairs at California State University in Hayward.

"The Tuskegee program was so rigorous, you didn't have time to think," says Hoskins. "A history master's student, who happened to be Jewish, was interviewing me for her thesis, asked me if I knew anything about the Holocaust. Honestly, all that was on my mind was 'Can I get through this program?' I didn't have the faintest idea about the Holocaust, nor about anything else that was happening in American society either, for that matter."

An initial part of the Tuskegee experience was getting hazed by upper classmen, a tradition brought over from the military academies and four national Black fraternities where many cadets had gone to school before enlisting in the Army Air Corps. Cadets were forced to "eat a square meal": they were only allowed to sit on one corner of their dining room chair, made to sit perfectly straight, and bring their forks from their plates to their mouths at a perfect right angle, without moving their heads. If food was dribbled, the cadet had to stand up and scream the humiliating phrase, "I am a sloppy dummy."

Pre-flight cadets were also awoken in the middle of the night, ordered to put on their rubberized ponchos and gas masks, and made to do various physical drills all night -- while still being expected to do their full physical training regimen in the morning, which began at 6 a.m., as well as class all afternoon.

"I guess it was supposed to make you tougher," explains Hoskins. "But when I got to Texas, I found out those white boys had no idea what hazing and fazing was all about. I didn't let on, but Texas was a piece of cake.

"Just to give you an example, we had to hem our own pants and sew on our own buttons on our shirts at Tuskegee. At Texas, we had tailors!" he laughs. "At Texas, they even customized our shirts so they fit just right and we looked sharp. At Tuskegee, we had to make sharp folds in our shirts, wrapping them sometimes all the way to our backside, to make them fit properly."

It is important to note that at the time African-American pilots trained at Tuskegee, the military was still completely segregated, which means the pilots' planes serviced by African-American mechanics and other specialists. Armament specialists trained at Lowry Field in Colorado, radio specialists at Scott Field, Illinois, and mechanics at Chanute Army Air Field in Illinois.

Eugene Jacques Bullard: First African American Military Combat Pilot

Photo: National Museum of the US Air Force

Born in Columbus, Georgia in 1895, Eugene Jacques Bullard had lived many interesting lives before and after making history as the first Black military pilot. 

As a teen, he found his way to London and later settled in France as both an entertainer and a boxer. When World War I broke out, he fought for France and became a decorated infantryman before training as a pilot, receiving his license in 1917. 

Bullard went on to participate in more than 20 combat missions before becoming a prominent nightclub owner in France and rubbing elbows with the likes of Louis Armstrong and Josephine Baker. 

However, after fighting and getting wounded in World War II, he returned to the States and settled in Harlem, New York, where he worked odd jobs — his final stint being an elevator operator at Rockefeller Center. He died from stomach cancer in 1961 and was buried in Flushing Cemetery in the French War Veterans&apos section in Queens, New York.

Published August 08. 2011 12:30AM

By AVIS THOMAS-LESTER The Washington Post

Washington - They came from as far away as Hawaii, silver-haired heroes converging on their nation's capital to celebrate their place in history.

But the fact that there were so many fewer of them this year was painfully obvious to the heroes.

They once numbered 15,000 - 992 pilots, 200 navigators, bombardiers and administrators, as well as legions of crew members and support and medical personnel who came to be known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

Seventy years later, their ranks have fallen precipitously. Only a few more than 100 of the "originals" from the Tuskegee days were among those who came to Washington last week for the 40th annual convention of Tuskegee Airmen Inc. at National Harbor's Gaylord hotel.

"We are losing so many that it is hard to keep track," said Col. Charles E. McGee, 91, of Bethesda, Md., who was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in July for flying 409 combat missions in three wars: World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

McGee and the rest of the Tuskegee Airmen were pioneering aviators who broke the color barrier for black pilots in the U.S. military during World War II.

Last week, they moved a little slower and stood a little less tall, but the response of the men, women and children who crossed their paths demonstrated their continuing rock-star status.

On Thursday, in a poignant annual tradition called the Lonely Eagles Ceremony, the airmen paid tribute to those who have died since last year's convention. As they sat in rapt silence, the names of 33 of their comrades were called out as a bell tolled.

They stood as they heard the name of a friend or loved one. Included was Charles Flowers, 92, of Glenarden, Md., who died in January. Charles Flowers High School is named in his honor. Most of the room was standing when the last name was called.

Then McGee spoke up. "George Fulton Walker III," he called out. Three others added names of people who also had been left off the list.

"For me, the ceremony isn't sad, but a reverent moment," McGee said. "You have to realize that one day it will be your name on that list."

William Broadwater, 85, of Upper Marlboro, Md., a former lieutenant who trained at Tuskegee as a bomber pilot and later served as president of the local and national chapters, expressed concern about the dwindling numbers.

"We were able to locate 380-some remaining members who were mobile enough to come to Washington for the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony" in 2007, he said. "There were a couple hundred more who couldn't make it. We had to go to their homes to give them their medals. It's hard to know how many are remaining because we are losing 20 to 30 to our Lonely Eagle chapter every year."

When they first converged on an airfield in Tuskegee, Ala., in 1941 as part of a U.S. Army Air Corps program set up after civil rights groups pressured Congress to create better opportunities for blacks in the military, they didn't consider themselves trailblazers, the Tuskegee Airmen said. They were young men, and a few women, who wanted to help their country defeat the enemy overseas.

It took months of pressure for them to gain the opportunity to join white U.S. troops on the front lines in Europe, but by the time the war ended in 1945, they had racked up an impressive list of achievements and proven that their color didn't translate into limited intellect, ability or dedication, said Brig. Gen. Leon Johnson, president of Tuskegee Airmen Inc.

He pointed to battles at home - such as the arrest of 101 black bomber pilots and crew members after they entered an all-white officers' club at Indiana's Freeman Field in 1945 - as an example of the resistance they faced from other troops.

A recent Air Force recruiting poster featuring the Tuskegee Airmen recognizes the struggle and bears the motto: "They fought Hitler and Mussolini in combat and Jim Crow at home."

Mitchell Higginbotham, 90, of Los Angeles, a lieutenant who served as a pilot during World War II, was discussing how his roommate at Tuskegee, Roger Terry, had been arrested at Freeman Field when a stranger walked up.

"I know the story of what happened at Freeman Field," the man said as he pumped Higginbotham's hand. "Thank you for what you did for our country."

Unable to secure work as pilots after the war, they took jobs wherever they could find them, in business, government and some as aviation administrators. They were among those who leveled the heaviest pressure against airlines to employ blacks as commercial pilots. They urged young blacks to take up aviation as a career. In 1972, they banded together to choose a name and purpose: to draw minority youths into the aviation careers that had led to their various successes.

"The proudest accomplishment of my life was, at age 19, having my wings pinned on me," said Broadwater, who went on to become one of the nation's first aviation administrators and a nationally recognized aviation expert. "It greatly benefited me in my life. I learned a skill. After the war, I wasn't able to get a job as a pilot because they wouldn't hire us, but I got a job as an air traffic controller that led to a successful career in aviation. It all started because I was a qualified pilot."

Activities during the five-day convention included a golf tournament and special presentation to the group at a Washington Nationals baseball game. On Wednesday, they went to Andrews Air Force Base to see a Stearman PT-13 aircraft in which they had trained all those years ago. They took a trip Thursday to the new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial on the Mall.

Pia Jordan, 55, of Baltimore attended the program to pay homage to her mother, Louise Virginia Lomax, a nurse who died in April. Lomax rarely spoke of her time in Tuskegee.

"Coming here has helped me to mourn my mother," she said. "I don't believe in superstitions or anything, but on the day we arrived, a butterfly landed on my finger and stayed there for about four minutes. Butterflies mean a lot to me, and it made me think of my mother. I even said, 'Hi, Mom!' Being here has made me feel close to her again."


Three government initiatives occurred between 1938 and 1940 that were instrumental in paving the way for blacks to participate in the nation’s defense and to become military pilots.

1.)On December 27, 1938, President Roosevelt announced an experimental civilian pilot training program. That experimental program, which began in early 1939, involved 330 openings at thirteen colleges, none of which were black. On January 12, 1939, President Roosevelt asked Congress to pass legislation to authorize a permanent Civilian Pilot Training (CPT) Program. The Civilian Pilot Training Act of 1939 was passed on June 27 1939, and funds were appropriated for it in August. The legislation included a provision that had been inserted by Representative Everett Dirksen which called for the program not to exclude anyone on the basis of race. Most of the colleges and universities that took part in the permanent CPT program beginning in 1939 were white, or predominantly white, but six black colleges also took part. A handful of Black CPT students attended predominantly white universities in the Northeast and Midwest.

2.) In 1940, Congress passed the Selective Service and Training Service Act, which was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt on September 16, 1940. This act, which was also known as the Burke-Wadsworth Bill, was the first peace-time draft in U.S. history. It required all American males between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-five to register for the draft. The final version of the bill contained two provisions, 3(a) and 4(a), which spoke to the discrimination question:

Section 3(a) stated – “Within the limits of the quota determined…Any person regardless of race or color…shall be afforded an opportunity to volunteer for induction.”

Section 4(a) stated – “In the selection and training of men under this Act, and in the interpretation and execution of the provision of this Act, there shall be no discrimination against any person on account of race or color.”

Memorial park tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen

A memorial park at Lowcountry Regional Airport in Walterboro, S.C., is hallowed ground for U.S. military aviators and the nation.

The park commemorates the World War II combat training activities of the Tuskegee Airmen at the airfield.

The marker in front of the Tuskegee Memorial at Lowcountry Regional Airport marks the location of the former Walterboro Army Airfield where hundreds of Tuskegee Airmen trained for aerial combat in World War II.

More than half of the approximately 1,000 Tuskegee pilots received their advanced training at Walterboro Army Airfield. The memorial park tells the story of that training and the struggles Black military aviators faced before going overseas, most notably as members of the famed 332 nd Fighter Group, the Red Tails.

Twin pine stumps are a reminder of the 2020 tornado that ripped across the airfield and the memorial park, downing trees and destroying aircraft. The damage has been repaired in the park although numerous stumps remain.

The memorial park across the street from the Walterboro airport terminal has been put back into display condition after an April 2020 tornado ripped across the airport, destroying at least two dozen aircraft and numerous hangars and other airport structures. A number of pine trees spread throughout the memorial park were also downed during the storm. Today, all is in order again in the park, with only a few low-cut pine stumps acting as reminders of the wind damage.

Information boards in the Memorial Park tell the story of the training of the Tuskegee Airmen at Walterboro Army Airfield.

Information boards along the park walkways explain the training and conditions at Walterboro where pilots received instruction in P-40, P-47, and P-51 fighter aircraft in preparation for combat duty. One of the storyboards notes: “Black airmen were given segregated quarters on the base and had to endure segregated seating in the theater and cafeteria, as well as having a separate, segregated officer’s club.”

Tuskegee Airmen at Walterboro Army Air Field.

Walterboro’s Lowcountry Regional Airport (KRBW), about 30 nautical miles west of Charleston, was a World War II military training base, a German Prisoner of War camp, and a bomb storage depot. In 1945 the base was returned to city and county government control.

Walterboro, with a population of approximately 6,900, is about one mile west of the field. It is home to the Hiram E. Mann Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen. The chapter, founded in 1998, is named in honor of Lt. Hiram E. Mann, who received his combat training at Walterboro Army Airfield in 1944 and flew 48 combat missions during World War II. Mann, who rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, assisted in early efforts to establish the local chapter by contacting other Tuskegee Airmen who trained at Walterboro. He died in 2014 at the age of 92.

A bust of a Tuskegee Airman is set atop the memorial marker within the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Park.

Centerpiece of the memorial is a bust of a Tuskegee Airman atop a pedestal with the inscription “In honor of the Tuskegee Airmen, their instructors, and ground support personnel who participated in training for combat at the Walterboro Army Airfield during the Second World War. Because of their heroic action in combat they were called Schwartze Vogelmenchen, ‘Black Bird Men’ by the Germans who both feared and respected them. White American Bomber Crews in reverence referred to them as the Red Tail Angels. Because of the identifying Red Paint on their tail assemblies and because of their reputation for not losing aircraft to enemy fighters as they provided fighter coverage for missions over strategic targets in Europe.”

The Red Tail Squadron‘s P-51 helps tell the tale of the Tuskegee Airmen.

In March 2007, President George W. Bush awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the Tuskegee Airmen as a group.

Read Bill Walker’s story about the airport’s recovery from the tornado here.


After the war in Europe ended in 1945, the Black airmen and support personnel returned to the U.S., where they continued to face racism and bigotry despite their outstanding war record.

The Tuskegee program was expanded to become the center for Black aviation during World War II. TAAF continued to train new airmen until 1946.

In March 1946, after the war ended, the 477th Composite Group moved from Godman Field to Lockbourne Army Air Base in Ohio. On July 1, 1947, the 332nd Fighter Group replaced the 477th at Lockbourne. That same year, the Army Air Forces was replaced by the United States Air Force, independent from the Army. The 332nd Fighter Group became the only active Black group in the new service. Large numbers of Black airmen chose to remain in the service, but because of segregation were limited to the 332nd Fighter Group and 477th Composite Group. Opportunities for advancement and promotion were also very limited, which affected morale. Nonetheless, Black airmen and those in other fields continued to perform superbly.

Original Tuskegee Airmen

Arkansas’s original Tuskegee Airmen were a part of a segregated group composed of African-American Army Air Corps cadets, personnel, and support staff known as the Tuskegee Airmen. There were twelve Arkansans documented who performed and maintained various roles at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Those roles included flight instructor, pilot, flight officer, engineer, bombardier, navigator, radio technician, air traffic controller, parachute rigger, weather observer, medical professional, and electronic communications specialist. Other support staff may have included Arkansans. The term “original” is applied to the individuals who received government and civilian instructional training while at Tuskegee between 1941 and 1946. Approximately 992 pilots were trained at Tuskegee, 450 of whom saw action overseas during the war four of those were Arkansans.

World War II Tuskegee Fighter Pilots from Arkansas
Woodrow W. Crockett (1918 – 2012) was born in Homan (Miller County) and lived in Little Rock (Pulaski County), where he attended Dunbar High School and Junior College before leaving to join the army in August 1940. In 1942, Crockett transferred to the Tuskegee Institute and became an aviation cadet. He graduated and was commissioned as a second lieutenant on March 25, 1943. Crockett served in the 100 th Fighter Squadron and the 332 nd Fighter Interceptor Group, flying 149 combat missions in fifteen months. He was stationed at McGuire Air Force Base and McCloud Air Force Base in Washington as a member of the Twenty-fifth Air Division, as well as Edmond Air Force Base in California. He was a graduate of the United States Air Force Command and Staff College in Montgomery, Alabama. Crockett later served in the Korean conflict, completing forty-five missions and receiving numerous awards and accolades. Crockett retired after thirty years of military service in 1970 with over 5,000 hours of flight time and 520 combat hours. In 1992, he was inducted into the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame and, in 1995, was made a member of the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.

William T. Mattison (1916–1951) was born on October 16, 1916. He was schooled at the Pine Street School in Conway (Faulkner County) and attended Arkansas A&M College (now the University of Arkansas at Monticello) and Howard University in Washington DC, becoming a rural school teacher before his military service. Mattison graduated from Tuskegee’s flight program on October 9, 1942, as a second lieutenant. Mattison served as operations officer and a member of the famed 100 th Squadron in Italy. Mattison also provided leadership to the 302 nd Fighter Squadron in March 1943 and was a member of the 332 nd Fighter Squadron (Red Tails). He was one of the most decorated Arkansans during any time of conflict, rising to the rank of major and earning the Flying Cross, the American Defense Service Medal, the American Campaign Medal, and two Bronze Service Stars, among numerous other awards for campaigns in Rome, Arno, southern France, the Rhineland, the Balkans, northern France, the northern Apennines, and Po Valley. Mattison died in an airplane crash en route to Ohio on January 28, 1951, and his remains are buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Herbert Vanallen Clark (1919–2003) of Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) was born on March 16, 1919. Clark was the first Arkansan to have graduated as a cadet to become a fighter pilot. As a member of class 42-F, he was part of the pioneering group to go directly from the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) into basic training in 1942. Clark was the first Arkansan of color in the Army Air Corps to be assigned to the 553 rd replacement training unit at Selfridge Field, a segregated military facility located about twenty-five miles north of Detroit, Michigan. Clark was a member of the Ninety-ninth Fighter Squadron from its inception and was one of the first black pilots to have shot down an ME-109, a premier German fighter.

Richard C. Caesar (1918 – 2011) was born in Lake Village (Chicot County) on April 12, 1918. In 1942, Caesar became the second pilot from Arkansas to graduate from Tuskegee’s single-engine class 42-H (the first was Herbert Clark). He was one of the persons responsible for saving fellow original Tuskegee Airman Dr. Roscoe C. Brown Jr. from a potentially disastrous plane crash in 1943. Caesar was an engineering officer and pilot with the 100 th Fighter Squadron. He retired from the air force and lived in Foster City, California.

Non-Combat AOTA Members
Granville C. Coggs (1925–2019) was born on July 30, 1925, in Pine Bluff but moved to Little Rock before being drafted. He served in the Army Air Corps from 1943 to 1946 as an aerial gunner, aerial bombardier, multi-engine pilot, and B-25 pilot trainee. He was scheduled for the 477 th Bombardment Group but did not see combat, due to the end of the war. Coggs was a weather observer until the fall of 1946, before being discharged and leaving Tuskegee to attend the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, where he graduated in 1949. In 1953, he became a physician upon completing a medical degree from Harvard Medical School. In 1959, he became the first Arkansan and the first African American to serve as staff physician at Kaiser Hospital in San Francisco. In 1972, he became the first head of the Ultrasound Radiology Division at the University of California at San Francisco. A longtime resident of San Antonio, Texas, Coggs died on May 7, 2019.

Jerry T. Hodges Jr. was born in Heth (St. Francis County) on June 29, 1925. He left Arkansas in 1943 to attend Hampton University in Virginia and, after three semesters, enlisted in the Army Air Corps on June 12, 1944, shortly after the D-Day invasion in France. Hodges completed flight training on September 8, 1945. After his training was complete, he served as base statistical control officer and was an administrative assistant to the Director of the Twin Engine (TE) Flight Training Program at Tuskegee Army Air Field (TAAF) until June 1946. He was assigned to the 617 th Bomb Squadron of the 477 th Composite Group but was released to continue his college education. He graduated in 1950 from the University of Southern California with a BS in accounting. By 2008, Hodges was a semi-retired accountant operating his own financing company in Los Angeles, California.

Arkansas Flight Officers (Non-Combatants)
Arkansas produced two flight officers (F/Os), or navigators, during the height of the Tuskegee era—James Ewing and Denny C. Jefferson. Ewing was from Helena (Phillips County) and graduated from the 44-F-TE class on June 27, 1944. He was assigned to Godman Field in Kentucky as a crew chief gunner with Special Order Ninety-one. Jefferson was from Little Rock and graduated from class B-445 on October 10, 1944. He was assigned to Randolph Field near San Antonio, Texas. Jefferson was the only Arkansan arrested at Freeman Field in Seymour, Indiana, on April 13, 1945, when 101 air force officers were taken into custody after an organized peaceful demonstration against Jim Crow practices at an all-white officers’ club. Jefferson was a member of the “E” Squadron, 118 th AAF Base Unit during the time of the protest. In a non-combat routine flight from Godman Field in Kentucky to Gunter Field in Alabama, Jefferson and six other crew members, were killed when their B-25 bomber went down in a swamp four miles east of Gunter Field in mid-June 1945.

Marsille P. Reed was from Tillar (Drew and Desha Counties). He was born in 1917 and enlisted in the armed services on February 16, 1942. Reed graduated on March 11, 1945, as a member of the class 45-A-SE. Little other information is available on him or fellow airman Aurelius Marcus Perkins, another early Arkansan at Tuskegee. According to William Holton, national historian of the Tuskegee Airmen Incorporated, Perkins was listed as being from Little Rock and joining the CPTP at Tuskegee in August 1941.

Alexander S. Anderson (1919–1975) was born on November 12, 1919. He was one of the first African-American paratroopers and served in both the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. According to George L. Washington, director of pilot training at Tuskegee, Anderson executed the first parachute jump at Tuskegee and later became a pioneer in the use of parachutes. On March 25, 1940, Anderson received one of the highest scores on the standard written examination required of all CPTP students at Tuskegee and was featured in the March 1941 edition of Popular Aviation.

Milton Pitts Crenchaw (1919 –2015) was born in Little Rock on January 13, 1919, and was one of the first African Americans—and the first from Arkansas—to be trained as a civilian licensed pilot. He later trained hundreds of cadet pilots while at Tuskegee at the beginning of his forty-year career with the air force. He later helped start a flight program at Philander Smith College.

For additional information:
Cooper, Charles, and Ann Cooper. Tuskegee’s Airmen, Featuring the Aviation Art of Roy LaGrone. Osceola, WI: Motorbrooks International Publishers & Wholesalers, 1996.

Davis, Edmond. “The Original Tuskegee Airmen: Pulaski County African American Pilots of World War II.” Pulaski County Historical Review 56 (Winter 2008): 121–129.

———. Pioneering African-American Aviators: Featuring the Tuskegee Airmen of Arkansas. Little Rock: Aviate Through Knowledge Productions, LLC, 2012.

Dryden, Charles W. A-TRAIN: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997.

Frances, Charles E., and Caso Adolph. The Tuskegee Airmen: The Men Who Changed a Nation. 5th ed. Wellesley, MA: Branden Books Publishing, 2008.

Homan, Lynn M., and Thomas Reilly. Black Knights: The Story of the Tuskegee Airmen.. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Co, 2001.

Travis, Dempsey J. Views from the Back of the Bus during WWII and Beyond. Chicago: Urban Research Press Inc., 1995.

Washington, George L. The History of the Military and the Civilian Pilot Training of the Negroes at Tuskegee, Alabama, 1939–1945. Washington DC: 1972.

Sherman Twitchell Rose

Flight Instructor
September 25, 1919 – August 20, 2008
Virtual Museum mural

Sherman Rose was born in Missouri and graduated from Washington High School in Luther, OK. He attended the Colored Agricultural and Normal University, which is now known as Langston University in Langston, OK.

Rose attended Tuskegee Institute where he graduated in the very first class of students to receive the Civil Pilot Training Program instruction and completed all courses from private pilot to instructor rating. After graduation, he remained as a flight instructor for Tuskegee, Division of Aeronautics, where he taught the famed 99th Pursuit Squadron and the 332nd Fighter Group to fly during World War II.

Rose helped inspire, motivate and train the remarkable young Americans who became the first Black Military Aviators in the history of the nation the famed Tuskegee Airmen of WWII. Much of the success of the Airmen was due to the remarkable basic aviation foundation given them by Rose and the other dedicated instructors hired by Tuskegee Institute. This was a historic military contract with the U.S. Government and a Negro educational institution it permitted Tuskegee Institute (now University), to spawn the Tuskegee Airmen.

He retired as a Department of the Army Civilian in 1974 after serving more than 19 years as a fixed and rotary wing instructor pilot at Fort Rucker. He not only trained fixed wing pilots at the post, but also became one of the best helicopter instructors in the U.S. Army. Many combat helicopter veterans of the Vietnam era who trained at Ft. Rucker have lauded Sherman as an instructor and aviator. It has always been easy to elicit a Sherman Rose aviation story.

In 2001, a mural on the facade of one of the City’s most historic downtown buildings in Dothan, AL was painted with a picture of Rose surrounded by a collage of key aviation associations and events in his life. He has contributed much to the fabric of the Dothan community. He has been lauded for his work with city leadership in obtaining a number federal development grants, including an industrial park.

The Cupola: Scholarship at Gettysburg College

Military service has long been associated with citizenship, and blacks have been part of every American war since the founding of this nation. Five thousand fought in the Revolutionary War, 180,000 fought in segregated units during the Civil War, and 380,000 enrolled in World War One. Although black participation increased with each major conflict, only 42,000 of the blacks in World War One belonged to combat units, a result of 20th century racial tensions that turned opinion against the use of black soldiers. Segregation persisted within the military establishment, including military aviation, through World War Two. Within a span of ten years, however, the Army Air Corps moved from having no African Americans among its ranks to become the United States Air Force, boasting tens of thousands of African Americans serving in many specialty areas. This dramatic change was inspired in part by the actions of the people who trained at Tuskegee Army Airfield or who served in the units of the Tuskegee experiment, collectively known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Their demonstrated skill in combat operations, their direct action protests against segregation outside of combat, and their remarkable commitment to preservation of military efficiency and discipline despite prejudices in semi-integrated settings combined to undermine the foundational justifications of military segregation, paving the way for Executive Order 9981 and integration of the Air Force.


Written for HIST 350: Modern Black Freedom Struggle.

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Watch the video: Who Were the Tuskegee Airmen? Dogfights. History (July 2022).


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