Pioneering African-American Aviators Featuring the Tuskegee Airmen of Arkansas is a study of little known black women and men who participated in the first four decades of U.S. aviation history. The book began originally in 2006 as a biography of Milton Pitts Crenchaw, a native of Little Rock, Arkansas who in 1940 received his pilot’s license and one year later began training black pilots. In 1941, 22-year-old Crenchaw, one of the few black flight instructors in the nation, was recruited to train the cadets who would become the first Tuskegee Airmen. While at Tuskegee Army Air Field from 1941 to 1946, Crenchaw was a Supervising Squadron Commander working under the leadership of Chief Alfred A. Anderson, the ranking black training pilot at Tuskegee. Both he and Anderson along with Shelton Forrest and Charlie Fox trained hundreds of Tuskegee Airmen to fly including the 332ND Fighter Group (the Red Tails).
I first met Milton Crenchaw in February 2005 at Philander Smith College in Little Rock. He told me his story but he also discussed the other men and women who were part of the Tuskegee Airmen program. His account and my own research led me to conclude that while a study of all of his life was warranted, someone also needed to describe these unsung heroes including others like Crenchaw who were from Arkansas.
Over the next two years I interviewed Milton Crenchaw, gathering information on his time as a Tuskegee flight trainer and his role in the history of aviation. Every step of the way Crenchaw exposed me to valuable resources and priceless contacts including other black pioneer Arkansas aviators such as Pickens Black, Jr. and Cornelius Coffey. With financial support in the form of a grant from the Arkansas Black History Commission, a state agency, I was able to travel across the state conducting interviews and gathering additional materials about these little known early black Arkansas aviators.
As my research evolved I encountered challenges. One of the most contentious was the question of who