Although the airplanes of the 1920's and 1930's were not nearly as complicated as those we use today, they were still something which required skill to fly. Many people, including those in the United States Army Air Corps, felt African Americans were not capable of obtaining these skills. Bessie Coleman, and African American woman born in Texas in 1892, became interested in flying after reading about the air war in Europe during World War I. She could not find a flying school in the United States which would train an African American woman and earned her license from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale in France.
The military still did not want to train African Americans, but President Franklin D. Roosevelt became convinced that America needed an operational African American pilot training program at Tuskegee. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt traveled to Tuskegee in April 1941 and accepted an offer to fly with Charles A. “Chief” Anderson, an African American who later trained many of the pilots in the Tuskegee program. By the end of World War II, nearly 1000 pilots had trained at Tuskegee.
Basic flight training took place at Moton Field and advanced training at the newly constructed Tuskegee Army Air Field. In April, 2008, Moton Field was dedicated as a part of the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Alabama.
Bessie was the first woman to earn an International Aviation License and the world's first licensed black aviator.
After her death in an aviation accident, the Bessie Coleman Aero Club was established in Los Angeles, California in 1929 to teach African Americans to fly. Other private African American flying schools also started training pilots. Early in 1939 the US began the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) at facilities near colleges and universities.
Tuskegee Institute in Alabama became a part of this program.
President George W. Bush presented the Congressional Gold Medal to about 300 Tuskegee Airmen on March 29, 2007 at the US Capitol.
However, the Congressional Gold Medal should not be confused with the Medal of Honor (commonly called the Congressional Medal of Honor), which is also awarded by Congress, but only to military members as the highest military decoration of the United States. A Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award, which may be bestowed by the United States Congress, the legislative branch of the United States government.
The decoration is awarded to any individual who performs an outstanding deed or act of service to the security, prosperity, and national interest of the United States.
Significant Tuskegee Airmen, interred at the Riverside National Cemetery: Charles William Ledbetter (April 5, 1922–July 23, 2003) was one of the Tuskegee Airmen, retiring from the United States Air Force as a Master Sergeant after 30 years active service.
During his tenure, he participated in World War II, the Korean War (where he flew night missions on B-26 bombers as an engineer and gunner as part of the 3rd Bomb Wing), and in Vietnam. On June 9, 2007, Ledbetter was posthumously honored with the Congressional Gold Medal.
Ledbetter was a columnist for the Black Voice News when Moreno Valley was called Sunnymead. He is interred at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, California. Charles F. Jamerson was born in Louisiana, but moved to California at an early age.
After completing high school, he entered San Jose State College and was an engineering student when the war began. He enlisted in the Air Force at March Field on April 1, 1941, and was sent to Tuskegee. On March 25,1943, he was commissioned and assigned to the 332nd.
Jamerson was sent overseas with the 332nd in January 1944, and was assigned to the 99th. He flew 78 missions with the 99th and was credited with damaging a jet plane in a running battle in which he chased the German aircraft within ten minutes of Berlin.
Dr. Hackley E. Woodford, M.D., a Tuskegee Airmen flight surgeon who served during World War II. Howard was appointed chief of staff at the Memorial Hospital, Benton Harbor, Michigan in 1940. After his internship at Provident Hospital Chicago, Dr. Woodford had several years of postgraduate education and served in the Medical Corps of the U.S. Army in World War II. He was a general practitioner and a member of the National Medical Association, the Berrien County Medical Society and the American Academy of General Practice.
Pilot Perry Willis Lindsey, who served during World War II and the Korean War. From 1942 through 1946, 994 Black fighter and bomber pilots were trained at the segregated Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. More than 400 served in combat overseas, flying patrol and staffing missions and serving as bomber escorts from bases in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. Ground and support crews were trained at Tuskegee and elsewhere, and all were assigned to exclusively Black aviation units that went overseas.
Once in combat, they excelled. However, they were not officially recognized until over sixty years later.
John Allen Pulliams Jr. , served during World War II and went on to serve 30 years in the U.S. Air Force. He retired as a Chief Warrant Officer.
This article was written with help from the Journal of the National Medical Association and UCR The Western Region Tuskegee Airmen Archive, (http://library.ucr.edu/?view=t uskegee/). For more information on the Riverside National Cemetery look for The Riverside National Cemetery Story: A Field of Warriors by Marlowe J. Churchill.