The Tuskegee Airmen
The Tuskegee Airmen
On January 16, 1941, the War Department announced the creation of the Army Air Corps 99th Pursuit Squadron – the nation’s first African American flying unit.
The 99th Pursuit Squadron trained at the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, where there was an airfield and a civilian pilot training program. Soon, “Tuskegee Airmen” became the nickname for the World War II Army Air Forces units that were made up predominantly of African American pilots and maintenance crews.
From 1941 to 1946, hundreds of African Americans successfully trained as pilots at the Tuskegee Institute, serving with distinction throughout the war. They flew 1,578 combat missions and earned three Distinguished Unit Citations, at least one Silver Star, and 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses. However, they were fighting for freedom on two fronts: against Nazism in Europe and against discrimination at home in the United States.
From the beginning of the war, African Americans serving in the Armed Forces were segregated into all-black units and limited in the types of positions they could hold. To allow for the creation of the 99th Pursuit Squadron and similar units, Congress had passed legislation in 1939 expanding the Army Air Corps (the precursor to today’s Air Force). Among the act’s provisions was the creation of training programs located at historically black colleges to prepare African Americans for Air Corps service. It wasn’t until after the war that President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 in 1948, leading to the desegregation of the United States military.
On March 29, 2007, these pilots received the Congressional Gold Medal from President George W. Bush for their commitment and service to the nation.
In celebration of the 75th anniversary of the creation of this historic unit, a flight report from a mission flown in support of the Anzio, Italy invasion and a petition sent to the War Department by officers protesting discriminatory practices in the Army Air Forces were on display in the “Featured Documents” exhibit in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives in Washington, DC, from January 7, 2016, through March 2, 2016.
Past Featured Records
The Maker of Pilots: Willa B. Brown
Willa B. Brown, February 13, 1943
National Archives, Records of the Office of War Information
Aviator Willa Beatrice Brown (1906–92) achieved numerous “firsts” in her lifetime, many of them earned through her tireless advocacy to integrate aviation programs. Brown began taking flying lessons in 1934,... Read more
Courting Confrontation: The Arrest of Susan B. AnthonyThursday, November 3, 2022 – Thursday, January 12, 2023East Rotunda Gallery
On November 5, 1872, Susan B. Anthony and 14 other women attempted to vote in Rochester, New York, challenging section... Read more
Featured Document Display: Remembering the Hollywood 10: Screenwriter Ring Lardner, Jr.
Thursday, September 8, 2022 – Wednesday, November 2, 2022
East Rotunda Gallery
Early in the Cold War, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigated allegations of Communist activity in the film industry. The committee’s mandate was... Read more
Black Wall Street: 100 Years Since the Tulsa Race Massacre
Thursday, April 1, 2021 – Thursday, June 17, 2021
“— were dead. Figures are omitted [because] NO ONE KNOWS.” —Red Cross Report
On Memorial Day 1921, a Black shoe shiner named Dick Rowland rode in an elevator with white operator Sarah Page. The next day,... Read more
Victory in Japan: 75th Anniversary of the End of WWII
World War II, the bloodiest conflict in history, came to an end in a 27-minute ceremony on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, six years and one day after the war erupted in Europe. On that September morning in 1945, Japanese officials signed a... Read more