The Tuskegee Airmen was a group of African American men who became fighter pilots in World War II in the Army Air Force units. They comprised the 332nd Pursuit Group. They accompanied bombers for their protection. The 477th Bombard Group, bombers, was also part of the Tuskegee Airmen. Maintenance men, instructors and support people were all a part of this group too.
Before WWII, from 1907 to the end of the 1930's, the Army Air Corps had accepted only white men. Many of these were from the South. Many of the Southerners held the belief that blacks were inferior in every way to those with light skin.
In 1939, the NAACP, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, began to petition for the admission of blacks into the armed forces, especially into the Army Air Corps. (There was no Air Force as a separate branch of the military until after WWII.) The organization took the matter to court in 1941. The Corps ruled to start a separate group of black airmen who would train at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
The plan was called the 'Tuskegee Experiment.' Most thought it would fail. However, it succeeded. The training provided for the men was the same as at all other training centers. The 99th Pursuit Squadron was begun in July 1941. Later in the war, these squadrons were called 'fighter squadrons.' To show spirit, the Tuskegee airmen painted their planes red and were called 'Red Tails.'
In late spring 1943, the squadron was sent to North Africa and given very slow, out-of-date planes which had a hard time against the German fighter planes. They won two Presidential Unit Citations, however. They were later given P-51 Mustangs.
In April 1944, the 99th became a part of the 332nd Pursuit Group. Their main job was to escort bombers attacking targets in southern Europe. They were told to stay with their bomber and not to fly off to attack enemy fighters. Their record of loss for the bombers they accompanied was one-half of other American fighter groups. The 332nd Group received a Presidential Citation for the 'longest bomber escort mission' to Berlin, Germany in 1945.
The Tuskegee Airmen sometimes experienced acceptance and sometimes racism by other service personnel. The truth is that they were neither the superheroes which they afterwards were described as or inferior to the white pilots. They showed much strength and perseverance, in fact, in doing what no blacks had done before. Some rose to higher command. George S. Roberts of the 332nd Pursuit Group became the first black man to command an integrated unit in the new Air Force.
These black men who wanted to serve their country as fighter pilots came mainly from the big cities of the United States. Many were college graduates or undergraduates. From 1942-1946, 992 pilots graduated from the TATF (Tuskegee Army Training Field) in Alabama. Black bombardiers, navigators, gunnery crews and mechanics were trained at other sites around the country. 450 of the pilots served overseas during the war in the 99th Pursuit Squadron or 332nd Fighter Group.
In 1948, President Harry Truman wrote an executive order requiring equal opportunity in the armed forces. This eventually led to the abolishment of racial segregation in the armed forces.