Being the first of anything is never easy, especially when you are representing a whole race. Knowing this, it was difficult for the Tuskegee Airmen, a.k.a. Red Tails for the red mark on the tail of their aircraft, to participate in World War II as the first African-American pilots in history. They served from 1943-1945, collecting marvelous records and earning great respect for their performance. But most importantly, the Red Tails helped attain equal rights for African-Americans. The Tuskegee Airmen showed persistence in the struggle to participate in the war, which set a precedent for colored-people, they showed that African Americans can do anything any other people can do, and their remarkable performance gave the army a reason to involve African-Americans in the war.
Despite the arduous obstacles they had to face, the Tuskegee Airmen showed a great amount of determination and perseverance to play a part in World War II. Firstly, the Tuskegee Airmen encountered many political difficulties to even be allowed to train in aviation. Before 1940, African-Americans were considered incapable of using airplane machinery. In January 15 1941, the NAACP demanded that there should be a test done to assess the abilities of African-Americans in terms of aviation. Jessie Smith says so in one of his references, saying” Because the military expected—and hoped—that these men would fail, the training program was called the ‘Tuskegee Experiment’…In military aviation, however, they would be highly visible and would prove that they could master complex machinery.”(Carney 191). With the help of the NAACP, African Americans were permitted to begin aviation training in Tuskegee University.
Still, the African-Americans faced difficulties along the way in training. McLaurin Melton supports this by writing, “At home, segregation continued to affect the efficiency of Tuskegee’s training programs. Trainees who washed out at Tuskegee but who could have served as navigators or bombardiers, for example, had no such opportunities until, under intense pressure from civilian civil rights advocates, the AAF finally established the 477th Medium Bombardment Group in 1944. The continuing inefficiencies caused by segregation so hampered the training efforts of the 477th that it never obtained full strength before the war’s end and was thus never assigned to combat.”(McLaurin Melton 1032). Segregation was a major limiting factor of Black aviation, however, through pressure from several directions, the American Air Force yielded and created one of the five fighter groups, which was a great advancement.
When the African-American fighter groups finally graduated from Tuskegee University, with great pride and courage, they proved that African-Americans are capable of doing anything other can do. The Tuskegee Airmen graduated from Tuskegee University and formed 4 all-black squadrons which would merge to become the 332nd squadron in Spring of 1943. When they were given their first mission to strafe the island of Pantelleria, they did not fail. In jaded, old P-39 and P-40 aircrafts, documented by the national museum of the United States Air Force, it is recorded at that same day, that the Allies, “secured the Italian island of Pantelleria.”(“Davis leads the 99th into Combat”). It continues, stating,” The unit scored its first aerial victory against the Luftwaffe on July 2 when Lt. Charles B. Hall shot down a Focke Wulf Fw 190 on his eighth mission.”
The Airmen were off to a good start, and their success would continue. Furthermore, the Tuskegee Airmen, now known as the Red-Tails were a force to be reckoned with. According to Lynn Homan, the author of Black Knights, they tallied one of the best flying records of all-time. “Of their 926 that graduated to become Tuskegee Airmen, 66 were killed. They shot 111 enemy airplanes down, destroying 150 others on ground and sank a German destroyer…participating in Italy, France, Sicily, Germany, and the Balkans(Lynn Homan 14). Through their statistics, the famed Red Tails proved that not only could African-Americans compare with the status-quo, but they were capable of setting new standards for excellent piloting.
In addition, the Tuskegee Airmen’s success opened opportunities for them in combat. By the time the Tuskegee Airmen were known as the Red-Tails, they became feared by any enemy aircraft in the sky or ground. They were offered more combat missions as well as bombing escorts in response to those acts of bravery For instance Lynn Homan once more states that the Tuskegee airmen “succeeded in 200 bomber missions, not losing one single bomber to the enemy.“(33).
This did not slow the success of the Tuskegee Airmen. Encyclopedia Britannica records the Red Tails “flew 1,578 missions and 15,533 sorties, destroyed 261 enemy aircraft, and won more than 850 medals.”(“The Tuskegee Airmen”). Regardless of the type they were assigned, with more missions, came more opportunities for triumph. The Red Tails were a force to be reckoned with. But the most important part was that other people acknowledged them, and implicated them as elites.
In conclusion, the famed Red Tails helped attain rights for African Americans through their effort to begin African-American piloting, their remarkable performance that brought proof that African-American are capable of doing anything other races could do,, and the their performance opened opportunities up for them which gave more chances to prove themselves. The Tuskegee Airmen compelled many African-Americans to go above and beyond. They proved themselves to the world and did so in great means. Because threw their outstanding aviation skills they truly showed that the sky is the limit.