Tuskegee Airmen: Breaking Barriers in WWII

The study was to determine African Americans in the military. The study had included that in every major way African soldier were inferior to White soldiers. They were deemed to be cowardly, to not be as smart and that they needed to be taken care of by a white superior. The study recommended that they were to be separate from their white counterparts and that blacks should not become leaders themselves due to a perceived lack of leadership traits. The Study no doubt was racial biased as it pertained a lot of the stereotypes put forth of Jim Crow.

It seems as though the people of the study just looked at the racial stereotypes and decided to base a study around it. Still the paper provided justification for white military officers to keep African Americans away from any complex tools or work.

The study also had vindicated the perceived superiority of Whites to many racists. After all, if a military study declared whites superior, then it must be true.

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African Americans would struggle to get ahead in positions in the military due to this dubious study. Such it is a shame as not too long after, Aviation became all the rage in America. Advances in technology had made airplanes move faster, travel further and reach newer heights than they could have during World War 1. In addition, Airmen such as Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh had been made into international celebrities almost overnight. No doubt there were African Americans inspired by the heroics and the bravery of these airmen and had wanted to emulate their flying heroes from the newspapers and radio.

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However, they faced the military roadblock. In addition, soon after the country and the world soon after was engulfed into a great depression. Who could think about flying when one cannot find work or is living off reduced payment? However, trouble on the horizon to give them the chance to prove themselves. Germany had been a shadow of their former self after the Treaty The great depression did not help their fortunes. Desperate, Germany embraced Fascism under the Nazi party and Adolf Hitler, who had promised a return of their former glory. With the resurgence, Germany decided to reconquer lands that had been lost during the war all the while the League of Nations could only slap Hitler on the wrist. They had falsely hoped that Germany would be satisfied with the land they had conquered. Instead, Germany pushed It was not until Germany’s conquer of Poland before Great Britain had enough and declared War on Germany.

America had opted to stay isolated from the war brewing. However, the country did give supplies to the Allies so they were not completely out of the war. During 1941 with Germany waging war with Great Britain, America might have own that they might have not been able to keep isolation for long. The United States ramped up its efforts for troops, weapons, and supplies. Unfortunately, for African American soldiers wanting to join the war effort, they still had faced the prejudice from the study and they seemed to face the usual low-level jobs whites don’t want. At least it might have been that way if it weren’t for Phillip Randolph. Phillip Randolph was an African American activist. His specialty was in labor. Phillip Randolph had previously helped find the Brotherhood of the Sleeping Cars Porter, whom were made up of employees of the Pullman Company, which was among the largest companies in the United States at the time.

They were even big enough to create company towns in their name called Pullman Towns. Knowing that they could not rely on a company union as they would be influenced by the company itself, Randolph formed the Brotherhood as an independent union. Despite the sheer size and power, the Pullman company had, the BOSCP managed to win a major victory against the Pullman Company. In 1935 in a lawsuit, the court had ruled in favor of the Brotherhood. With the court case, the Brotherhood was made as a recognized union for the Pullman company. This is was a major victory because the case legitimized unions that were not from the company itself. For those, especially African Americans who did not want to be in a company union, this give them hope that their independent union can be recognized.

Of course, Randolph wasn’t the only one who was wanting equality. In the 1930s, many other African Americans were lobbying for representation in the military. In addition, in 1939, Roosevelt had been able to pass the Civilian Plot Training Act, which gave blacks the ability to gain their license in flight. In 1940, African Americans were granted the ability to join combat units, but only segregated units. However as important steps they were, they did not directly address the issue of possible discrimination. If there was one man who could successfully challenge the status quo, it was would be Phillip Randolph. Like many other African American activists, Randolph was angered about the lack of duties given from the military. In Addition, despite his laws passed Roosevelt was seemingly unconcerned with the problem of discrimination going on in the military.

Phillip Randolph advertised a March on Washington to protest against the Roosevelt administration. When he started his plans, he hoped for 10,000 people to join up. The unexpected popularity of the planned march in the end caused the membership count to balloon to over 100,000 people. Roosevelt saw the numbers of the march and was very worried. Not only he worried of the chaos the march could give in Washington, but he was also concerned that the march could make him look bad in the world stage. This march could display a major flaw of the United States in front of the other nations. Beating the planned March, Roosevelt ordered an Executive Order. The Order were to end discrimination of African Americans in the military.

While this did not solve Jim Crow, it gave African Americans a much-needed window of opportunity.  With this window would rise the Tuskegee Airmen. Randolph, satisfied with the executive Order for the time, cancelled the March. However, he set up a March to Washington Movement. This movement would check on the government periodically to make sure the government was enforcing the executive order as promised. Unfortunately, the movement would be placed under Congressional Oversite. This means that it could not function as an independent organization as Randolph no doubt had hoped. Similar to the company unions he had earlier sought to avoid, his movement would lack the power needed to challenge the status quo.

Nevertheless, Randolph had made the formation of the Tuskegee Airmen possible with his March. He would later be at the 1963 March of Washington as a guest of honor for all his work. With his famous planned march, he had shown what a massive group of protested could do if they had the size to challenge the status quo. It also indicated to others that protesting was a valid form of activism. Plans had gotten under way to create an all-black Airmen unit. The site chosen, Tuskegee Alabama seemed like a good place to start. It was home to the Tuskegee Institute, which was an all-black college. In addition, Tuskegee was one of the sites that African Americans can join the program for their wings. In July 1941, the 99th Pursuit Squadron was formed, becoming the first official All-black fighter squadron. There were Initial doubts that they would be able to succeed in the proper training on their wings.

Colonel Frederick Kimble, a white officer and commander of the Tuskegee field, doubted their success. Frederick would try to seemingly try to reduce morale by segregating the whites and blacks at the mess halls, disallowing white soldiers to interact with the cadets, and refusing to give jobs to high ranking African American soldiers that they clearly were capable of doing. However, he would be replaced by Major Noel Parrish, who was much more sympathetic to the cause. However, that would not mean that all racial incidents would stop. In April 1 1942, a Tuskegee MP patrol came to retrieve a black military prisoner at gunpoint. In retaliation, the sheriff and a few other armed civilians beat the MP and disarmed the patrol. Soldiers, led by Parrish, had to grab the black soldiers and return them to base lest things get nastier. The Air Field still got ready for any sort of retaliation.

Fortunately, Parrish was able to defuse the situation, but one could not help but wonder what might have happened if he failed. On the morning of December 7th 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese airmen in a surprise attack on the harbor. Japan with this attack had hoped that the surprise attack could catch America off guard and cripple them so they won’t intervene with the Japanese warfront. However, while the attack managed to bruise the United States, it didn’t cripple them as had hoped. Instead, a few days later, the United States would declare war. Japan would declare war on USA as well. Later, Germany: Japan’s ally in the Axis, would follow suit and declare war. With the declaration of war by Japan and his allies, the United States was officially in the war effort. Soon after, the 332nd fighter group was formed. The 332nd fighter group was formed from the 100th, 301st, and 302nd fighter squadron group.

The 332nd fighter group were first sent to Italy. Their main jobs in Italy was escort missions. They were to escort bombers to various places as needed to. The reason being was these bombers are huge planes designed to carry out big bombs to important railroads or factories. However, because of their bulk, the were good targets for fighter planes. While some of these missions were often routine with little to no enemies to engage, some of the missions were more noteworthy than others. One particular mission saw the 332nd encounter a destroyer. It happened on June of 1944. What had happened was that they were sent to strafe enemy troops. However, after spotting none, they began to fly home. On their way back to base, they spotted a German destroyer. They dived in to engage with the ship with their bullets. Their bullets managed to case the ship to explode and sink. Another ship that tried to fire at the crew was also sunk.

For their efforts, two of the crew were award medals for their bravery. Another particular mission on July 12, 1944, the 332nd group was escorting B-17 on a mission against railway yards in southern France. When the crossed the French coast, they spotted a group of German aircraft. Captain Joseph Elsberry, the leader of the group ordered his men to drop their tanks, causing the German planes to direct their attacks away from the bombers. In the ensuing battle, Elsberry managed to shoot down 3 planes. What happened was that the Elsberry dived into the first one and fired into it. A 2nd one pulled in front of Elsberry. Elsberry proceeded to give it a 2 second burst of bullets. The 2nd plane would later been spotted crashing. The 3rd and last plane flew past Elsberry in a 45th dive, but Elsberry hit the left wing. While the Tuskegee Airmen are busy fighting in the War, the 477th Bombardment Group is fighting a different type of battle.

The 477th Bombardment Group were also Tuskegee Airmen like the 332-fighter group and the 99th fighter group. Unlike these famous groups, the 477th Bombardment never saw any combat. They never left the base much. Nevertheless, their own story is still important in civil rights history in its own right. The Reason that the 477th bombardment never saw combat was a man named Robert Selway, the commander of the group. Robert Selway, while in command of African American airmen, was bigoted. After the War, Truman had decided to sign an executive order which is to end segregation in all branches of military. He had been observing the military for at least a year before. He had wanted to end segregation of the military for some time, but he could have been worried of a backlash to his plans. Fortunately for him, the 1948 delegates would ask for a civil rights plank for the party.

Confident of his party’s support, he issued an Executive Order on July. The Executive Order stated that “There shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.' With that Executive Order, the military would start to be integrated soon. The order was a big blow to the long-standing Jim Crow Laws and in many ways the integration would prove to be the beginning of the end of the practice. For many activists, the order proved that Jim Crow can be defeated and a future where African Americans and Whites can be truly equal. The road to integration would not be quick, however. Racist white military officers either silently or loudly protested this change. This order was a huge change from what they were used to. They were used to holding their noses up at African American soldiers, deeming them inferior to their all white squadron.

Some of them might have known the Jim Crow laws all their lives, and now suddenly they are thrust into a world where Jim Crow is banished from the military.  Full integration wouldn’t happen until the Korea Warr where heavy losses forced their hand lest teams of squadrons would coast to exist otherwise. One such incredible victory would help but the Tuskegee Airmen on the map of history. On March 25th of 1945, the 332nd fighter group was on an escort mission for Bombers in Berlin when they encountered the German jet planes of the Nazi Germany: The Me 262. The counter the upcoming bombers and to protect their factories in berlin, the Nazis had sent in 30 of their best airplanes in the hopes of their modern jets would be able to tear into their heavier, much slower opponents and the seemingly outdated P51s the Red Tails were flying. The Me262 was a state of an art plane that was among the first to use jet fuel.

They were the processor to the modern fighter jet plane. These planes were designed for pure speed. They were meant to catch up to the older looking planes, do as much damage as they can and to fly off away before a counter launch can do anything. With such a powerful plane, it might have been a terrifying experience to fight them. As one Tuskegee Airmen: Roscoe Brown described in an interview. “We Knew the German Jets were faster than we were. Instead of going after them, we went away from them and then turned into their blind spots” While the Me262 were built for speed, they proved to be much less maneuverable than the P51 that the Tuskegee Airmen were encountering. Plus, one of the disadvantages of being a speedy plane was that it needed to take in a lot of fuel, which the P51s didn’t require. One particular encounter interesting anecdote came from the one of the Airmen as they were engaged with one of the ME262 fighter planes.

Updated: Nov 30, 2023
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Tuskegee Airmen: Breaking Barriers in WWII. (2022, Jan 05). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/army-war-college-study-essay

Tuskegee Airmen: Breaking Barriers in WWII essay
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