The film Red Tails which depicts the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II, opened on the weekend of January 20-21 in theaters across the nation. BlackPast.org in support of the Seattle, Washington youth violence prevention program of THE SILENT WAR and other organizations which have vowed to use this movie to inspire young people to purposeful, creative, and responsible lives, has created this page which provides the historical background on the Tuskegee Airmen. The links below connect to sections of the website which describe the Tuskegee Airmen and profile prominent individuals in the unit. There are also links to books on the Tuskegee Airmen in the BlackPast.org bibliographies and to entries related to the Tuskegee Airmen.
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African American military aviators in the United States armed forces. During their years of operation, 1940 to 1946, 996 pilots were trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field. Approximately 445 were deployed overseas and 150 lost their lives during that period. Sixty-six pilots were killed in action or accidents and 32 were captured and held as prisoners of war.
The Tuskegee Airmen served primarily in three units. The first unit, the 99th Pursuit Squadron, was activated at Chanute Field in Rantoul, Illinois on March 19, 1941, nine months before the United States officially entered World War II. They transferred to Tuskegee, Alabama in June, 1941 where they received pilot training. At that time the unit had 47 white officers and 429 enlisted men. By mid-1942 nearly 3,000 white and black personnel were stationed at Tuskegee Army Air Field. The African American personnel were placed under the command of Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. one of only two black line officers then serving in the U.S. Army. Davis reported to Major James Ellison, the commander of the 99th Fighter Squadron.
In April 1943, the 99th was deemed ready for combat and was transferred to North Africa where it was assigned to the 33rd Fighter Group. There it first saw action and on May