America’s first African American military pilots were trained at Moton Field, which is now home to the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.
Nearly 1,000 aviators were trained there between 1941 and 1945. More than 10,000 military and civilian black men and women also served in a variety of support roles.
Before the “Tuskegee Experiment,” African Americans were denied the opportunity to fly for the U.S. military because key leaders within the Army Air Corps believed they lacked the intellect and skills to be successful.
Political pressure from the black press and civil rights organizations led the military to consider training a small number of African American pilot cadets under special conditions.
The Tuskegee Institute was selected because of its existing facilities and engineering and technical instructors as well as a strong commitment to aeronautical training. Alabama’s climate, ideal for year-round flying, also played a role.
Tuskegee Institute was awarded a military contract to operate a primary flight school at Moton Field. Advanced training was provided at a segregated base, the Tuskegee Army Air Field.
The first black military pilots earned their silver wings in March 1942.
The Tuskegee Airmen earned the name “Red-Tail Angels” because of the red tail markings on their aircraft. They completed approximately 1,500 missions and earned numerous high honors, including Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Croix de Guerre and a Distinguished Unit Citation for the 332nd Fighter Group.
The legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen was the desegregation of the military, which began in 1948 by order of President Harry Truman.
The Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, which is managed by the National Park Service, is located at 1616 Chappie James Avenue.
The Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site, also managed by the National Park Service, includes the George Washington Carver Museum and The Oaks, where President Booker T. Washington and his family once lived.
The Carver Museum is currently closed for renovations.