In 1938, with Europe teetering on the brink of another world war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced he would expand the civilian pilot training program in the United States. At that time, racial segregation remained the rule in the U.S. armed forces — as well as much of the country. Henry Harley Arnold was an American general officer holding the ranks of General of the Army and later, General of the Air Force. He believed that black soldiers did not have the ability to do complicated things or take leadership roles. Black soldiers were relegated to support roles such as cooks, janitors, and supply officers. Flying fighter planes was out of the question for an African American military volunteer.
Under pressure from black newspapers like the Chicago Defender and Pittsburgh Courier, the NAACP and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, President Roosevelt relented in 1939, and ordered the Civilian Pilot Training Program to be open to black students who wished to become civilian pilots. In response, by December 1940, the War Department appropriated $1 million to build a military base to train black airman. They called this effort “an experiment” fully expecting it to fail.
The Tuskegee Airmen became the first Black military aviators in the U.S. Army Air Corps, a pre-cursor of the U.S. Air Force. In February 1944, the 100th, 301st and 302nd fighter squadrons arrived in Italy; together with the 99th, these squadrons of Black pilots and other personnel made up the new 332nd Fighter Group. The Tuskegee Airmen flew more than 15,000 individual missions in Europe and North Africa during World War.
The Tuskegee Airmen represented an important step forward in racial integration of the military, A number of the original Tuskegee Airmen would go on to longer careers in the military, including Davis, who would become the first Black general in the new U.S. Air Force; George S. “Spanky” Roberts, who became the first Black commander of a racially integrated Air Force unit before retiring as a colonel; and Daniel “Chappie” James Jr., who would become the nation’s first Black four-star general in 1975.
CLASSROOM LESSON PLAN
(Links below for teachers to download lesson plan for your classroom)
Grade Level Secondary
Disciplines Social Studies
The students will be able to:
- define how merit leads to success in a free society.
- discern how to effectuate change.
- explain a portion of America’s expanding franchise.
- articulate whether opportunities come through luck or through planning
Handout #1 Introduction
Handout #2 Emory Malick
Handout #3 Bessie Colman
Handout #4 James Banning
Handout #5 Willa Brown