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Tuskegee Airmen rule

Article: Chanute to Get Negro Squadron

(Associated Press)

october 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt announced that a program to determine if African-American’s (males) could be trained to become military pilots, the reaction in the African-American community was celebratory. Groups like The Black Press, including the Pittsburgh Courier, worked tirelessly to ensure Africa-Americans we’re provided greater access to all levels of military service.

June 1941, the War Department authorizes construction of the Tuskegee Army Air Field, Tuskegee, A.L. (Tuskegee Army Flying School history yearbook) The airfield connected to Tuskegee Institute.

Many felt Tuskegee Institute, was a selected to ensure the programs failure. The historically black college was located in the segregated south. Some southern blacks felt it was great choice and were proud to have the program in their back yard. July 1941, construction began on and was completed Tuskegee Army Airfield shortly thereafter.

July 1941, the inaugural class of 50 cadets entered preflight training at Tuskegee. The program Davis and his fellow cadets entered was grueling and intensive. Cadets were expected to learn and learn quickly. Instruction included aeronautics, mechanics, meteorology and a host of other challenging classes. Most instructors were fair minded, others were not. Some instructors felt that teaching African-American to become pilots was detrimental to the instructor’s careers. These instructors would do anything they could to expel a cadet.

Because the cadets were cloistered, it created a strong and supportive environment within the group. Cadets developed life-long friendships as they helped each other complete program. They studied, prayed and lived together. When a cadet was killed or left the program, they all felt sadness. Given the pressure cooker they lived in, today many airmen felt it was the only time they felt a great sense of brotherhood.


(l to r) Brig. General B.O. Davis, Sr.,
Lt. Col. Noel Parrish,
Lt. Col. B.O. Davis, Jr.
(U.S. Air Force photo)

November 1941, Maj. James A. Ellison was the first commanding officer. His primary challenges were to oversee completion of the facilities and solidifying the programs instructors and curriculum. During Ellison’s command, an African-American Military Policeman removed an African-American serviceman from white civilian authorities. It is believed Maj. Ellison lost the post, in defense of the military policeman.

Col. Frederick Kimble become commandant January 1942. Col. Kimble was a strict segregationist. He demanded that strict control, including white or negroes only sign constructions, be maintained to keep the races from mixing. Separate eating, sleeping and bathing facilities were constructed. During Kimble’s command, the base became restrictive for the cadets.

Fortunately, December 1942, Lt. Col. Noel Parrish became the school’s commanding officer. Though he was a southerner, he allowed more desegregation on the base, thus making it a more pleasant place for the Cadets to be.

Picture of Benjamin O. Davis Senior and Junior
Brig. Gen. B.O. Davis Sr.
pins the Distinguished Flying Cross
on his son, Lt. Col. B.O Davis Jr.
U.S. Air Force photo)

During training, Cadets received not only class instruction, but also flight instruction. The PT17 Stearman Kaydet was the first of three to four planes used to train the Cadets. After the Cadets were completed training at Moton Airfield they transferred to Tuskegee field for advanced military flight instruction. The P40 warhawk monoplane was the first fighter cadets would fly.

Cadets were constantly evaluated. Any minor infraction could result in dismissal from the program. At regular intervals, instructors evaluated Cadets in-flight performance to measure the Cadets readiness. Some loved the experience. Unfortunately, a few lost their lives during training, a reflection of the dangers of flight.

March 1942, the inaugural class, including Benjamin O. Davis Jr., who would become America’s first U.S. Army General, graduated from the training program. Of the original fifty cadets, only five (10%) graduated from the program. The graduates formed the 99th Fighter Squadron, also known as The Fighting 99th, America’s first African-American fighter squadron.

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