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See the extensive bibliography (divided into print, video/audio, and online resources) below the two historical context essays.

The Red Tails

The Battle on the Ground

It all began with the doubt of a nation and with great social turmoil standing upright beneath the glorious American flag. The still-felt derivatives of institutions of slavery and the sense of racism that lingered in the United States continued to repress individuals of a darker skin color as the 20th century progressed, this time finding blacks embroiled in a battle with the United States Army Air Corps for the right to spread their wings and fly.

The United States Army War College Study

The battle began in 1925 with The United States Army War College Study. Blacks believed it their right to display a sense of pride and patriotism for their country by military service. This pride and patriotism was arguably displayed when over 400,000 blacks answered the call for service at the onset of World War I, 10,000 of whom saw battle. Notwithstanding that contribution, from the stance of the United States Armed Forces the climate of the nation did not permit, with any immediacy, blacks to step into officer roles or desegregated units. The study produced the following sentiments:

The American negro has not progressed as far as the other sub-species of the human family. As a race he has not developed leadership qualities. His mental inferiority and the inherent weaknesses of his character are factors that must be considered with great care in the preparation of any plan for his employment in war. . . . Due to his susceptibility to “Crowd Psychology,” a large mass of negroes, e.g., a division, is very subject to panic. Experience has indicated that the negroes produce better results by segregation and cause less trouble. Grouping of negroes generally in the past has produced demands for equality, both during war and after demobilization.

The All-Black 99th Pursuit Squadron

These assumptions of inferiority and weakness were not accepted but fervently combated. President Franklin Roosevelt announced during his election in the fall of 1940 that he had plans to train Negro pilots for military service. The black community also exerted pressure on the U.S. Army Air Corps. In January 1941 the War Department bent in response to those pressures. On the eve of their decision, licensed pilot and engineer Yancey Williams, backed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Chicago Defender, and other black newspapers, sued the Air Corps to institute training facilities for Negro pilots aspiring to serve. The toils of this battle eventually culminated in a victory for Negro flyers and the implementation of the all-Black 99th Pursuit Squadron, which was to be trained first at Moton Field, then a segregated army airfield in Tuskegee, Alabama. However, nothing less than spectacular credentials were accepted and expected from Negro aspirants, who had to display academic excellence and previous flight experience. This selectivity of candidates ensured that only the most able-minded and intelligent African Americans were given the opportunities to fly.

Riding the Runway at Flight School

Before their planes could lift off, the Tuskegee Airmen faced unavoidable challenges that, for a time, kept them grounded. The program was highly selective, requiring academic excellence and participation in civilian pilot training. Given the nature of flight, intensive training was necessary. The negro pilots also had to come to grips with the slough of racism that was existent in the South. The twenty white pilots who volunteered to teach at Tuskegee also received harsh criticism as a result of the racial tension of the time. The racist South impeded the rapidity of the project and disturbed the smoothness of operations at the Tuskegee Air Field. Upon activation of the 99th Pursuit Squadron in March of 1941, 271 enlisted men embarked upon a new journey, but this figure would soar exponentially. By the next year Tuskegee housed ten-fold the number of personnel and pilots going through, basic, advanced, and transition flight training. The enormity of the airfield and its operations spurred the creation of jobs for its upkeep. In spite of all the activities, the Tuskegee Airmen still had not been able to grace the skies to see battle action. The number of pilots without missions and assignments eventually began to wear upon the Tuskegee staff, housing, and facilities. In addition, African-American officers were not assigned to command positions since those invitations were extended to white officers first. General Henry Arnold, the commanding officer of the United States Army Air Forces, stated that "Negro pilots cannot be used in our present Air Corps units since this would result in Negro officers serving over white enlisted men, creating an impossible social situation." However, the men of Tuskegee would not give up the fight. Some of the fight came from the white commanding officers that came and went. For example, Major Noel F. Parrish, once the director of instruction at Tuskegee Army Airfield, petitioned Washington to allow the men of Tuskegee to serve in combat.

Gaining Air

It wasn’t until April of 1943 that the men of the 99th Pursuit Squadron at Tuskegee were even considered combat ready and given their very first assignment in North Africa. They joined with Colonel William W. Moyer and strategically planned for an aerial attack on a small Mediterranean Island called Pantelleria June 2nd . The attack stimulated the surrender of over 11,100 Italians and nearly 80 Germans on the ground, but, in spite of the great success of the mission, the all-black squadron was criticized for the lack of enemy aircraft losses. The Capitol buzzed over this issue, with multiple hearings in which the value of the all-black squadron was assessed. But deaf to the buzz of the Capitol and before Washington could come to grips with a decision as to whether or not to disband the unit, the flyers moved on to Sicily, fresh and ready for success.

The 332nd Squadron: The Red Tails

In January of 1944, Captain Charles B. Hall of the 99th Squadron led the defense of an Ally base of operations, Anzio, which culminated in the shooting down of thirty-two German aircraft. Led by Colonel Benjamin O. Davis Jr., the 99th Squadron joined the graduates of Tuskegee (100th, 301st, and 302nd) to form a new, 332nd Fighter group, stationed at Ramitelli Air Field very close to the Adriatic Coast. The formation of the 332nd by June of 1944 marks the beginning of a most distinguished stretch of aerial accolades. This combat record was gathered in an array of different planes, from the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, P-39 Airacobra, Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, and the North American P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft -- all with crimson red-painted tails. These planes were skillfully maneuvered to take down some of Germany’s fiercest aircraft. Another great feat of Colonel Benjamin Davis, Jr., along with pilots Charles Brantley, Roscoe Brown, and Earl Lane, was their ability to combat over twenty-five German planes on March 24th, 1945, and to take down three. Their primary success came from the defense of the heavy bomber units of the Fifteenth Air Force, taking flight over European countries that included Austria, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Hungary, and Poland.

The 477th Bombardment Group

In the midst of all the great success, the NAACP, in addition to the overwhelming number of African American men looking to serve, called for the establishment of a bombardment group. This call was answered with the January 1944 establishment of the 477th Bombardment Group that would contain four medium bomber squadrons, 1,200 officers and enlisted men, 60 North American B-25 Mitchell bombers -- and it would eventually incorporate the former 99th Pursuit Squadron. This great squad deemed the 477th was scheduled to be ready for action in November 1944. The 477th , with origins at Tuskegee, branched out to train throughout the entirety of the country, but they were ultimately based at Selfridge Field just outside of Detroit.

Flying Super Heroes

In the large runs of success the Tuskegee effort brought to the United States Air Corps were some larger than life heroes and larger than life victories. Many great men served in Red Tail planes, men like Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. and Lee Archer and Wendell O. Pruitt of Gruesome Twosome fame, but to only recognize the great accomplishments of few men would undermine the overwhelming accomplishments of the many. Together, the Tuskegee Airmen participated in 1378 combat missions and 179 bomber escort missions, in addition to eliminating an array of motor vehicles, enemy weapons, seafaring vessels, and other forms of enemy transportation. For an unparalleled display of bravery and patriotism, these men received three Distinguished Unit Citations for their heroics above Italy and Germany. Individual accolades comprise ninety-six Distinguished Flying Crosses, 744 Air Medals, fourteen Bronze Stars, 8 Purple Hearts, and at least one Silver Star. Over recent years, historians have made these individual and collective accomplishments the topics of much discussion and debate, but no argument can deduce the magnitude of the contribution of these Airmen.

Flying Away

After the Second World War ended, the good work of the Tuskegee Airmen did not stop. The Red Tails continued to build a legacy. Above the toils and conflicts of war, they rose to the stars and beyond. President Harry Truman’s Executive Order 9981 on July 26, 1948, ended military segregation and allowed the Airmen to serve in greater capacities. They assumed command positions over fight units and provided instruction at civilian flight programs, and some men, based on their qualifications, were even re-assigned to units that were formerly reserved for whites only. The hard work of the Tuskegee Airmen and their continued leadership and service resulted in the collective receipt on March 29th, 2007, of a Congressional Gold Medal at the United States Capitol rotunda. Though many of their former units have been altered or rendered inactive, the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen cannot be forgotten, given the extent of their depiction in historical texts, novels, documentaries, TV shows, comics, toy brands, and a slew of films providing their reel American history.

Print Resources

Caver, Joseph, Jerome Ennels, and Daniel Haulman. The Tuskegee Airmen: An Illustrated History, 1939-1949. Montgomery: New South Books, 2011.
This is an illustrated history of the Tuskegee Airmen of the 332nd and 477th fighter and bomber groups. It illustrates all aspects of their history, from the origins of black flight before 1941, through and beyond World War II. Flipping through the pages of this graphic masterpiece is like walking through a museum or traveling back through time.
Crowley, Stephen. "Honoring the Tuskegee Airmen With a Medal, and a Salute." New York Times 30 March 2007: A18.
The group was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President Bush.
Francis, Charles E., and Adolph Caso. The Tuskegee Airmen: The Men Who Changed a Nation. Boston: Branden Books, 1997.
This very dense book includes a very detailed history of the involvement of the Tuskegee Airmen in the Army Air Corps. It also documents a number of special reports, lists of enlisted men and their statuses, interviews, and more. The hero of this book is General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., but the book does not spare the details of the blood, sweat, and tears of other men and women who contributed to an ultimate goal: the attainment of a lasting integration of the United States Armed Forces.
Homan, Lynn M., and Thomas Reilly. Black Knights: The Story of the Tuskegee Airmen. Gretna: Pelican Publishing, 2001.
The great feats of the Tuskegee Airmen in war and in peace time are exemplified in this book. It begins with the Army's attempt to prove that black men couldn't fly, but it highlights the opposition to this idea and the eventual overcoming. The book highlights battles from Italy to the airfields over Germany to show that to the end of the world and through duration of time these great warriors were unsung heroes. Though this book is primarily about the Tuskegee Airmen in the program at Tuskegee Army Air Field from 1941 to 1946, it does not neglect the surrounding cast that contributed to the making of their stories and their experiences. Accounts and photographs of mechanics, nurses, officers, band members and more have all been included in this historical text.
McKissack, Patricia C. and Fredrick L. Red Tail Angels: The Story of the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. New York: Walker Books for Young Readers, 1996.
Rich with description and pictures, this book delineates the history of black aviation from the beginning of the 20th Century. Its beginning precedes the World Wars, documenting male and female pilots, from circus flyers to flying club members to military personnel. No details were left untouched, from the many accolades of many famed flyers to the planes they flew.
Moye, J. Todd. "The Tuskegee Airmen Oral History Project and Oral History in the National Park Service." Journal of American History 89.2 (2002): 580-87.
"In 1998 President Bill Clinton signed into law a bill directing the National Park Service (NPS) to create a national historic site at Moton Field in Tuskegee, Alabama. The site will honor the Tuskegee Airmen, as the first African American military aviatorsmen who trained to fly airplanes at segregated facilities in Tuskegee during World War II -- were later called. When Congress appropriated funds for the creation of the site, it authorized the NPS to conduct an oral history of surviving Tuskegee-trained pilots and the thousands of people who supported them during World War II. The resulting Tuskegee Airmen Oral History Project is but one of the hundreds of ways that the National Park Service has embraced the possibilities of oral history."
Moye, J. Todd. Freedom Flyers: The Tuskeegee Airmen of World War II. New York: Oxford UP, 2010.
"Here is the definitive story of the Tuskegee Airmen and how they remade American Society—based on never-before-published oral history interviews. In this inspiring account, historian J. Todd Moye captures the challenges and triumphs of these brave pilots, drawing on more than 800 interviews recorded for the National Park Service's Tuskegee Airmen Oral History Project. Denied the right to fully participate in the U.S. War effort alongside whites at the beginning of World War II, African Americans compelled the prestigious Army Air Corps to open its training programs to black pilots, despite the objections of its top generals. Thousands of young men came from every part of the country to Tuskegee, Alabama, in the heart of the segregated South, to enter the program, which expanded in 1943 to train multi-engine bomber pilots in addition to fighter pilots. By the end of the war, Tuskegee Airfield had become a small city populated by black mechanics, parachute packers, doctors, and nurses. Together, they helped prove that racial segregation of the fighting forces was so inefficient as to be counterproductive to the nation's defense. " -from back over of the book
Seelye, Katharine Q. "Tuskegee Airmen Invited to Obama Inauguration." New York Times 10 December 2008.
The roughly 330 still living of the original 16,000 members received the invitation.

See Also

Ambrose, Stephen Edward. The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys who Flew the B-24s over Germany. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001.

Broadnax, Samuel L. Blue Skies, Black Wings: African American Pioneers of Aviation. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2007.

Bucholtz, Chris, and Laurier, Jim. 332nd Fighter Group -- Tuskegee Airmen. London: Osprey Publishing, 2007

Cooper, Charlie, Ann Cooper, and Roy La Grone. Tuskegee's Heroes. St. Paul: Motorbooks International Publishing Company, 1996.

Evans, Ben. "Tuskegee Airmen awarded Congressional Gold Medal." Associated Press, 30 March 2007.

Gubert, Betty Kaplan, Miriam Sawyer, and Caroline M. Fannine. Distinguished African Americans in Aviation and Space Science. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002.

Haulman, Daniel L. Eleven Myths About the Tuskegee Airmen. Montgomery: New South Books, 2012.

Hill, Ezra M. Sr. The Black Red Tail Angels: A Story of the Tuskegee Airmen. Columbus: SMF Haven of Hope, 2006.

Holway, John B. Red Tail, Black Wings: The Men of America's Black Air Force. Las Cruces: Yuca Tree Press, 1997.

Percy, William A. "Jim Crow and Uncle Sam: The Tuskegee Flying Units and the U.S. Army Air Forces in Europe during World War II." Journal of Military History 67 (July): 2003.

Rice, Markus. "The Men and Their Airplanes: The Fighters." Tuskegee Airmen 1 March 2000.

Ross, Robert A. Lonely Eagles: The Story of America's Black Air Force in World War II. Los Angeles: Tuskegee Airmen Inc., Los Angeles Chapter, 1980.

Sandler, Stanley. Segregated Skies: All-Black Combat Squadrons of WWII. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992.

Scott, Lawrence P., and William M. Womack, Sr. Double V: The Civil Rights Struggle of the Tuskegee Airmen. Lansing: Michigan State UP, 1998.

Tillman, Barrett. "Tales of the Red Tails; Inside the Tuskegee Legend: The Men, the Machines, the Missions." Flight Journal February 2012.

Video/Audio Resources

In their own words. Dir. Bryan Williams. Perf. Tuskegee Airmen. Bryton Entertainment, LLC, 2011. DVD
A great documentary packed with first-person accounts and resource information from African American men who took part in the Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee flyers reminisce on their experiences prior to their flying careers then illuminate their struggles with the racial strife that barred them from flying for the Air Force, one of which was the Army War College Study of 1941. "Negroes are subspecies of the human family," the study concluded in attempts to justify the grounding of the African American race. But the airmen recall the fight for flight that started with Yancey Williams, who threatened to sue the Armed Forces with the backings of the NAACP and African American newspapers. The Army had no choice but to fold and institute the 99th All Black Squadron at the Tuskegee Institute, and the rest is history! The Airmen talked about their famed counterparts, like Benjamin Davis, Jr., the first captain. Dr. Roscoe Brown summarizes the history of these most distinguished men. He says, "We thought we might change the world by becoming great pilots, which we did."
Negro Pilots (1943)
U.S. Army Air Forces video: "Tuskegee — At a dusty, booming airdrome in the Southeast Air Forces Training Center, the 99th Pursuit Squadron, world's first Negro aerial fighting unit, is girding for its opening sky-joust with the enemy."
The Negro Soldier (1943)
Produced by Frank Capra for the United States War Department: "WWII recruitment film aimed at African Americans. The film opens with an African American minister in church telling his flock why they should join the armed forces to fight the Nazis. We see historical re-enactments of African Americans as valued participants in US armed conflicts dating from the American Revolution. The balance of the film deals with the African American experience within the present war effort, the conditions of their living and training, with special attention paid to the respect and dignity they will have."
Red Tail Reborn. Dir. Adam White. Perf. Tuskegee Airmen. Hemlock Films, 2007. DVD.
This documentary stands out as it really focuses more on the Fly Boys of Western Pennsylvania. The Tuskegee pilots recall the Maxwell Army Air Base Study which said that Blacks were inferior and had to have a white leader to lead them into combat. In addition, the documentary also talks about the gruesome twosome (Wendell O. Pruitt and Lee Archer), which renders it comparable to the recently released Lucas film. In addition, the great pilots of the Tuskegee project also think back on their greatest accomplishments, sacrifices, and more.
Red Tails: The Real Story of the Tuskegee Airmen. [Fly Boys: The Western Pennsylvania Tuskeegee Airmen] WQED Multi-Media. 2008.
The story of the Red Tails told mainly through interviews, Lee Archer, the Gruesome Twosome, and so forth. A quite interesting part is the the inability of the airmen to get commercial flying jobs after the war. The bracketed title is the one on the film itself, and there are several references to the fact that a seeming high percentage of the pilots came from Pennsylvania.
Silver Wings & Civil Rights: The Fight to Fly. 2005.
Documentary: "Tells the story of the struggle of African Americans to enter the field of flying, especially during World War II. Much of the film features African American veterans telling stories of how they got into the pilot programs and their adventures during the war."
Tuskegee Airman Tribute (1990)
Department of the Air Force video: "The video informs members of the Air Force of the achievements and contributions of the Tuskegee Airmen on a recurring basis. A historical summary of the 'Tuskegee Experiment' during World War II."
"The Tuskegee Airmen." History Channel, 6 December 2007.
An episode of the documentary TV series Dogfights, was originally aired on the History Channel on 6 December 2007.
Wings for this Man (1945)
Department of the Army: "a propaganda film produced in 1945 by the U.S. Army Air Forces First Motion Picture Unit about the Tuskegee Airmen, the first unit of African-American pilots in the US military."

Online Resources

Haulman, Dr. Daniel L. "Nine Myths About the Tuskegee.", October 21, 2011.
"This paper focuses on nine myths about the Tuskegee Airmen that, in light of the historical documentation available at the Air Force Historical Research Agency, and sources at the Air University Library, are not accurate." The myths are: The Myth of Inferiority, The Myth of "Never Lost a Bomber," The Myth of the Deprived Ace, The Myth of Being First to Shoot Down German Jets, The Myth that the Tuskegee Airmen sank a German destroyer, The Myth of the "Great Train Robbery," The Myth of Superiority, The Myth that the Tuskegee Airmen units were all black, The Myth that all Tuskegee Airmen were fighter pilots who flew red-tailed P-51s to escort bombers. See Haulman's book with eleven myths.
Interview with Ted Moye.
Author of Freedom Flyers: The Tuskeegee Airmen of World War II, New York: Oxford UP, 2010. Audio as well.
"Keep us flying. Buy War Bonds."
Color poster of a Tuskegee Airman (probably Lt. Robert W. Diez) by an unidentified artist. 1943.
Red Tail Squadron
"The goal of the Commemorative Air Force Red Tail Squadron is to share the inspiring legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America's first Black military pilots and crew."
"Return of the Red Tails: Another Day of Life and Death." A fine art print by Matt Hall.
"September 12, 1944 . . . low over Northern Italy, the pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group shepherd home a wounded B-24 Liberator of the 455th Bomb Group after a bombing raid on the Me-262 test airfield at Lechfeld, Germany. The men of the 332nd, the first African American combat pilots, would be known as the "Tuskegee Airmen." But, in the sky, they were simply called the "Red Tails." On this day, the Red Tails will return to their base at Ramitelli. To them, this escort was just another day's work. But, to the bomber crew below, they were the difference between life and death."
Tuskegee Airmen, New York Times.
Search engine for finding articles about the Tuskegee Airmen in the Times: "The Tuskegee Airmen were the country's first black aviation combat unit. The legendary all-black fighting force, originally 16,000 pilots and ground crew, fought in World War II on behalf of a country that actively discriminated against them. Their bravery during the war helped persuade President Harry S. Truman to desegregate the military in 1948. Members of the group have experienced a flood of new national recognition in recent years. In 2007, President George W. Bush awarded the airmen the Congressional Gold Medal. President Obama invited the veterans to his inauguration, saying they had paved his way to the presidency. At the time only 330 airmen remained; 200 came to watch the country's first black president being sworn in."
Tuskegee Airmen. National Museum of the U. S. Air Force.
Section topics include: Political Pressure, Training Begins, Davis Leads the 99th into Combat, Lt. Gen. Daniel James III, Escort Excellence, Legacy of Equality, Edward C. Gleed Flying Jacket, William L. Cain Uniform. There is also a lesson plan for grades 2-4.
Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Site. National Park Service.
Moton Field, Tuskegee, Alabama: "Before the first African American military pilots became known as the 'Red Tails' they wore striped tails as they began their flight training in the Army's PT-17 Stearman bi-plane. Their flying adventure started at Moton Field, in Tuskegee, Alabama, where the Army Air Corps began a military 'experiment' to see if Negroes could be trained to fly combat aircraft. Come--share their adventure!!"
Tuskegee Airmen National Museum
Located in Detroit: "The National Museum of the Tuskegee Airmen represents the culmination of the efforts of many individuals. It provides a place not only to record the contributions of Americans to the defense of our Nation during a period in our history when they were not thought of as the equal of other citizens, but a place where all of the youth of America may come to acquire inspiration, counseling and assistance in achieving excellence in their own educational and career pursuits."
Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.
"Honoring the accomplishments and perpetuating the legacy of The Tuskegee Airmen. . . . In spite of adversity and limited opportunities, African Americans have played a significant role in U.S. military history over the past 300 years. They were denied military leadership roles and skilled training because many believed they lacked qualifications for combat duty. Before 1940, African Americans were barred from flying for the U.S. military. Civil rights organizations and the black press exerted pressure that resulted in the formation of an all African-American pursuit squadron based in Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1941. They became known as the Tuskegee Airmen."
Tuskegee B-25 Bomber Pilot
G.I. Joe Classic Collection figure from Hasbro Toy.
The Tuskegee Fighter Pilot
G.I. Joe Classic Collection figure from Hasbro Toy.
U.S. Army War College, "The Army War College Studies Black Soldiers," HERB: Resources for Teachers.
Memorandum for the Chief of Staff regarding Employment of Negro Man Power in War, November 10, 1925," President's Official Files 4245-G: Office of Production Management: Commission on Fair Employment Practices: War Department, 1943; Archives of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library,