Red Tails: The Tuskegee Airmen (Part 2)

Part two: Double Victory

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American aerial combat unit. Deployed in Europe during WWII, they painted the tails of their planes red and became known as the Red Tails. To the Americans, they were the Red Tail Angels. To the Germans, they were the Red Tail Devils. To all of us, they are heroes who sought a Double Victory: victory in the war abroad and victory over prejudice, segregation and Jim Crow laws at home.

This is part two of a series about the Tuskegee Airmen to coordinate with the January 20 release of Red Tails, the Lucasfilm action movie. Go see it opening weekend!

George Lucas wanted to make a movie about the Tuskegee Airmen for over 20 years. He funded Red Tails himself, first with $58 million for production and then $30 million for distribution. Red Tails is an action-packed movie that tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen protecting bombers flying over Germany. Lucas produced a documentary, Double Victory: The Story of the Tuskegee Airmen in Their Own Words. The documentary has screened at numerous events honoring Tuskegee Airmen. I hope you get to see it!

The Tuskegee Airmen faced prejudice, discrimination and segregation at every step. Before WWII, African-Americans were barred from flying in the U.S. military. Civil rights organizations and the black press put pressure on Washington, ultimately leading to the formation of an all African-American pursuit squadron based in Tuskegee, Alabama. The fledgling program got a boost from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who visited the site and took a much-publicized flight with African-American chief civilian instructor C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson.

While stationed in Italy, bomber groups that the Red Tails protected did not know the pilots were black until a B-17 had to make an emergency landing at their base. In the Double Victory documentary, veterans describe how some in the bomber crew accepted the Tuskegee Airmen, but a few men chose to sleep in their plane rather than stay with the black pilots and crewmembers. Temperatures dropped so low that those men knocked on the barracks door in the middle of the night and then stayed with the Tuskegee Airmen for days. Censors found a letter home in which a recruit asked his sweetie to “forgive him” for staying with the black airmen for three days.

When the Tuskegee Airmen returned home after the war, they did not receive the hero’s welcome their white counterparts enjoyed. They faced segregation, Jim Crow laws, and discriminatory employment practices. You can trace the impetus for the Civil Rights movement resulting from how African-American veterans were treated after WWII through President Truman’s signing of Executive Order 9981 ending segregation in the military.

Here are some resources you can use for your own learning or in the classroom (depending on the grade level you teach).

PBS Home Video: The Tuskegee Airmen: This is an excellent choice for the classroom. It his educational, entertaining, and the PBS brand is above reproach from parents or administrators.

The Tuskegee Airmen: An Illustrated History: 1939-1949

The Tuskegee Airmen Story

Wind Flyers

Don’t miss the 1995 movie The Tuskegee Airmenstarring Lawrence Fishburne and Cuba Gooding Jr.

Georgia’s Kennesaw State University created an excellent Teacher’s Guide about the Tuskegee Airmen

This past weekend, I was excited to meet Tuskegee Airmen in an event to honor their legacy. I was thrilled to pose for pictures with three Tuskegee Airmen. I am posting a picture for each entry in this miniseries. This is  Tuskegee Airman Charles Cooper with me. Along with Hannibal Cox and Charles McGee, Charles Cooper shares the distinction of having flown combat missions as a fighter pilot in WWII, the Korean War and Vietnam.

Tuskegee Airmen, Part 1Tuskegee Airmen, Part 2
Tuskegee Airmen, Part 3Tuskegee Airmen, Part 4

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Posted in Academics,Social Studies by Corey Green @ Jan 20, 2012


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