American Collections blog

16 January 2012

War, Struggle and Equality: the Tuskegee Airmen

Tuskegee airman (poster)
War bonds poster featuring an unnamed Tuskegee airman (displayed on Wikipedia's Tuskegee Airmen entry)

On January 10th the Institute for the Study of the Americas hosted a screening of the documentary, 'Double Victory', an account of the Tuskegee Airmen and their exploits in World War Two. These pilots of the 332nd Figther Group and 477th Bomber Group of the U. S. Army Air Corps were the first African American aviators of the U.S. Armed Forces but they faced a struggle against institutionalised racism in order to fly, fight and be treated as equals during and after the war.

'Double Victory' is a documentary account of this struggle, narrated by Cuba Gooding Jr. and produced to be viewed alongside the film 'Red Tails' (both productions are Lucas Film projects). The high point of the evening, however, was the attendence of two Tuskegee Airmen, Le Roy Gillead and Alexander Jefferson. Gillead and Jefferson's recollections added a great deal to the evening, with Jefferson talking about the struggle for African American men to be allowed to fly and his experiences as a German POW and Gillead highlighting the struggle for equality undertaken by officers who did not see front line service.

Both men also talked about their pride at being awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, along with roughly 300 other Tuskegee Airmen. During the award ceremony, President George W. Bush paid tribute to the airmen, saying, "The Tuskegee Airmen helped win a war, and you helped change our nation for the better. Yours is the story of the human spirit, and it ends like all great stories do – with wisdom and lessons and hope for tomorrow." A copy of the act bestowing the medals can be found here and Library holds a number of resources relating to the Tuskegee Airmen, their forces service and the relationship their actions had to the subsequent Civil Rights Movement.

The Library's collection of American newspapers contain a number of insights, with articles such as the Chicago Defender's, '332nd Flies Its 200th Mission Without a Loss' and many accounts of how the Freedman Field Mutiny and other incidents regarding racial equality were reported. There are also published service accounts, Alexander Jefferson's, 'Red Tail Captured, Red Tail Free' (shelfmark: YC.2005.a.5960) is a good example, and various journal articles on the exploits and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen in Europe and the US.

[JJ and PJH]

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