2016 Press Releases

National Archives Museum Honors Tuskegee Airmen with Special Display
Press Release · Thursday, December 10, 2015

Washington, DC

Display celebrates 75th anniversary of creation of historic unit and Black History Month

The National Archives Museum celebrates the 75th anniversary of the creation of the Tuskegee Airmen and Black History Month with a special "Featured Document" display: The Tuskegee Airmen: Fighting on Two Fronts. The special display in the National Archives Museum’s East Rotunda Gallery runs from January 7 - March 2, 2016. The Museum, display, and related programs are free and open to the public. The National Archives Museum's "Featured Document" exhibit is made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation.

The display includes three records:

  • "Keep Us Flying" poster with portrait of Lt. Robert Deiz, 99th Pursuit Squadron, by Betsy Graves Reyneau, 1943. National Archives, Records of the Office of Government Reports
  • "Sortie Report" from January 28, 1944. The 99th Fighter Squadron flew air cover in support of the Allied invasion force at Anzio, Italy, in January 1944. On January 27 and 28, its pilots shot down 12 German planes. The victories over Anzio helped silence critics of the unit. National Archives, Records of the Army Air Forces
  • "Racial Discrimination and Violation of Expressed War Department Policies," September 24, 1944. When the Midland (TX) Army Air Field base commander segregated facilities, 21 black officers wrote in protest to the War Department’s inspector general. An investigation found “no valid basis for this complaint,” and the signers were transferred to other bases. One of the signers was Lt. Coleman A. Young, who was later elected the first African American mayor of Detroit, Michigan. National Archives, Records of the Army Air Forces

Background on the Tuskegee Airmen

African Americans were not permitted to be pilots in the U.S. Army Air Corps before 1941. This changed as the United States prepared to enter World War II. Under pressure from African American civil rights organizations, President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration announced plans to begin training African American as military pilots in October, 1940. On January 16, 1941, the War Department announced the creation of an all-black fighter squadron to train at an airfield in Tuskegee, Alabama. The base opened in July with 13 cadets in its first pilot training class. After graduation, these pilots—along with their support personnel and later Tuskegee classes—formed the nation’s first African American fighter unit: the 99th Pursuit Squadron. The 99th was followed by other fighter and bomber units, all known as "Tuskegee Airmen" (even if they trained elsewhere).

The Tuskegee Airmen fought for freedom on two fronts: against Nazism in Europe and against discrimination at home. At some military camps, they protested against unfair treatment from commanding officers, segregated facilities, few promotional opportunities, and racist comments from fellow servicemen. Especially in the South, they felt the oppression of Jim Crow segregation and violence. Several were court-martialed, disciplined, or discharged for protesting.

Despite these burdens, the approximately 500 Tuskegee Airmen who flew and supported combat missions in North Africa and Europe established a distinguished military record, flying 1,578 combat missions and earning three Distinguished Unit Citations, at least one Silver Star, and 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses. In 2007, they received the Congressional Gold Medal.

Related FDR Library online resources:

Related Programs

FILM: From the Vaults: Wings for This Man and The Negro Soldier
Friday, January 15, at noon, William G. McGowan Theater

In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American fighter squadron organized during World War II, we present two films from our motion picture?holdings. Wings for This Man (1945;? 11 minutes), produced by the Army? Air Forces and narrated by Ronald? Reagan, describes the history and? organization of the Tuskegee Airmen? and shows them in training. The Negro? Soldier (1944; 43 minutes) was produced by Frank Capra’s Army motion? picture unit to demonstrate to black? troops their particular stake in the fight? against the Axis Powers.

?BOOK TALK: Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American
Wednesday, January 20, at noon, William G. McGowan Theater

Frederick Douglass, ex-slave turned leading abolitionist, was the most photographed American of the 19th century. Now, as a result of research by John Stauffer, Douglass has emerged as a leading pioneer in photography, both as a stately subject and as a prescient theorist who believed in the explosive social power of this early art form. A book signing follows the program.

The National Archives Museum is located on the National Mall on Constitution Avenue at 9th Street, NW. Metro accessible on Yellow or Green lines, Archives/Navy Memorial station. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., daily. Closed December 25. More information on exhibits and programs online.

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