In this exercise, students will learn about the Tuskegee Airmen—African American fighter pilots who opened the doors for African American aviation and influenced the U.S. military's decision to integrate.
Who Were They?
• The Tuskegee Airmen, who flew combat missions in World War II, were also known by the nickname “Red Tails” for the distinctive red paint on the tails of their P-51s.
• First all-black aerial units in the Army Air Forces, active during World War
II. In total, about 1,000 pilots were trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field.
Approximately 335 pilots deployed to the war in Europe.
• Trained at Tuskegee Institute/Moton Field in Alabama from 1941-1946.
• They served in the 332nd Fighter Group as the 99th, the 100th, the 301st
and the 302nd Fighter Squadrons under the 12th and 15th Air Forces in
the European Theater of Operations. The 447th Bombardment Group was comprised of the 616th, 617th, 618th and 619th Bombardment Squadrons. They were also assisted by important maintenance and support units.
• The Tuskegee Airmen fighter units thrived in the skies. Their squadrons
flew more than 15,000 sorties on 1,500 missions and shot down 112 German aircrafts.
• Together, they earned one Legion of Merit, one Silver Star, several
Distinguished Unit Citations, 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses, many Purple Heart medals, 14 Bronze Stars and 744 Air Medals.
• In 2007, as a group they received a Congressional Gold Medal for their service during World War II. Like many all-black units, their excellence was not officially recognized until years later.
Start at the Legends of Tuskegee Web site.
- Click on the image to enter the exhibit.
- Select the "Tuskegee Airmen" topic by clicking on the title.
- Browse through the site, taking notes as you go.
After you have read through the information, answer the following questions.
1. What was the Tuskegee Experiment, and why was it initiated?
2. Describe the rigorous training that students completed in order to become airmen.
3. How did the Tuskegee Experiment make the point for racial integration of the U.S. military?
4. Profile one of the Tuskegee pilots featured in the site.
5. On a separate sheet of paper, write an editorial that a journalist from 1945 might have written arguing for integration of the United States military. Be sure to use facts from the Web site to support your opinions.
The Tuskegee Legacy: Tune in! Many Tuskegee pilots and crew members have been honored for their service in recent years. But many Americans are still unaware of their important achievements and their role in sparking the Civil Rights Movement. Write a letter to the editor
of your local newspaper or an op-ed piece about the historical significance of the Tuskegee Experiment. Encourage communities to watch Double Victory and the Red Tails movie!
2. In Their Own Words. The first-person testimonies of the Tuskegee pilots in this program help bring home the intensity of their experiences and the bravery of their service in the face of discrimination. The National Park Service organized a Tuskegee Airmen Oral History Project to
record many of their stories. Read more of their stories online at the websites listed at the end of this guide, create a mini-biography, or write an article about one of the Airmen.
3. Laying the Groundwork for Change. The Tuskegee Airmen’s struggle for racial equality within the military, later inspired movements for change throughout American society. One immediate effect of their efforts was the desegregation of the Armed Forces. Research this change online. When were the Armed Forces officially desegregated? Write a short essay about this transformation and the role of the Tuskegee Airmen in bringing about this change.
4. Double V: Calling All Recruits. The NAACP and other organizations joined the campaign for “Double Victory” at home and abroad, creating posters to help encourage African Americans to get involved in the effort to win victory in WWII and equality on the homefront. Search online to find some of these posters, and then design your own historic Double V poster or public service announcement.