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Who were the Tuskegee Airmen?

During World War II , the United States Military, like so much of the nation, was segregated. Jim Crow Laws kept blacks from entering public places such as libraries, restaurants, and movie theaters. Although African Americans served in the armed forces, they were restricted in the types of jobs and positions they could hold. On April 3, 1939, Public Law 18 was passed which provided for an expansion of the Army Air Corps. One section of the law offered hope for those African Americans who wanted to advance their military careers beyond the kitchen or the motor pool. It called for the creation of training programs to be located at black colleges which would prepare blacks for service in a variety of areas in the Air Corps support services.

The program for training an all black flying unit took place at the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama. The Institute, founded by Booker T. Washington in 1881, had a strong Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) under the direction of Charles Alfred Anderson, the nation's first African American to earn a pilot's license. The Army chose Tuskegee as the training grounds for the new segregated 99th Pursuit Squadron in January 1941 and the "Tuskegee Airmen" took flight.

From 1941 to 1946 over 2000 African Americans completed training at Tuskegee and nearly three quarters of them qualified as pilots while the remainder were trained as navigators or support personnel. The 99th Pursuit Squadron was activated and became the 99th Fighter Squadron in May 1942. The Tuskegee Airmen saw combat in over 1500 missions in Europe and North Africa. Not one of the bombers that the Tuskegee Airmen escorted was lost to enemy fire; the 99th Fighter Squadron is the only U.S. squadron to hold that distinction during the Second World War.

Although the Tuskegee Airmen played an integral part in the outcome of World War II, their most important victory was the one at home. Due to the bravery, tenacity, and success of the Tuskegee Airmen, President Harry S. Truman desegregated the United States Military in 1948.