Tuskegee University’s Leadership Role In Developing The Tuskegee Airmen and Aviation Opportunities For African Americans
The few African-Americans who learned to fly in the early 1900s were self-taught or trained overseas. Once the U.S. government passed the Civilian Pilot Training Act in 1939, Tuskegee University – together with various civil rights groups and the Black press – began the effort to change federal government practices and policies that excluded African-Americans from pilot training programs and to begin the development of Black fighter pilots.
The first Civilian Pilot Training Program students completed their instruction in May 1940 at the University's Moton Field. The Tuskegee program was then expanded and became the center for African-American aviation during World War II.
The military selected Tuskegee University because of its already demonstrated success and commitment to aviation training. Tuskegee had the facilities including an airport, engineering and technical instructors, as well as a climate for year-round flying.
Thirteen cadets entered the first flight program in July 1941.
Five graduated in March 1942 and were designated as military pilots.
Between 1941 and 1946, nearly 1,000 African-American aviators completed the flight course at Tuskegee University.
The Tuskegee Airmen, members of the 332nd Fighter Group, are credited with having the best loss records on combat missions as air escorts
The Tuskegee Airmen destroyed 260 enemy aircraft.
The Tuskegee Airmen accumulated a total of 850 medals for their service and valor.
The nation's first African-American four-star general, Daniel "Chappie" James, was not only a Tuskegee Airman but a 1942 graduate of Tuskegee University. He completed the U.S. Army Air Corps program and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1943. This year's convocation will be held in the General Daniel "Chappie" James Center for Aerospace Science and Health Education, a facility named in his honor.
Tuskegee University donated the land to build the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site Museum at Moton Field. This occurred after the U.S. Congress and President Bill Clinton in 1998 approved Public Law 105-355, which commemorated the heroic efforts of the nation's first African-American fighter pilots during World War II and authorized an initial sum of $29.1 million to the National Park Service for the development of the museum in cooperation with Tuskegee University and the Tuskegee Airmen.
Moton Field, named for Robert Russa Moton – second president of Tuskegee Institute, was built between 1940 and 1942 with funding from the Julius Rosenwald Fund.
Tuskegee University continues its leadership legacy in aeronautics by being the first and only historically black college or university to offer a degree in aerospace science engineering. The degree has been offered since 1983 and has produced the largest number of Black aerospace science engineers of any other institution in America.