Freedom Flyers: The Tuskegee Airmen of World War II

Freedom Flyers: The Tuskegee Airmen of World War II

Freedom Flyers: The Tuskegee Airmen of World War II

Freedom Flyers: The Tuskegee Airmen of World War II

Synopsis

As the country's first African American military pilots, the Tuskegee Airmen fought in World War II on two fronts: against the Axis powers in the skies over Europe and against Jim Crow racism and segregation at home. Although the pilots flew more than 15,000 sorties and destroyed more than 200 German aircraft, their most far-reaching achievement defies quantification: delivering a powerful blow to racial inequality and discrimination in American life.
In this inspiring account of the Tuskegee Airmen, historian J. Todd Moye captures the challenges and triumphs of these brave pilots in their own words, drawing on more than 800 interviews recorded for the National Park Service's Tuskegee Airmen Oral History Project. Denied the right to fully participate in the U.S. war effort alongside whites at the beginning of World War II, African Americans--spurred on by black newspapers and civil rights organizations such as the NAACP--compelled the prestigious Army Air Corps to open its training programs to black pilots, despite the objections of its top generals. Thousands of young men came from every part of the country to Tuskegee, Alabama, in the heart of the segregated South, to enter the program, which expanded in 1943 to train multi-engine bomber pilots in addition to fighter pilots. By the end of the war, Tuskegee Airfield had become a small city populated by black mechanics, parachute packers, doctors, and nurses. Together, they helped prove that racial segregation of the fighting forces was so inefficient as to be counterproductive to the nation's defense.
Freedom Flyersbrings to life the legacy of a determined, visionary cadre of African American airmen who proved their capabilities and patriotism beyond question, transformed the armed forces--formerly the nation's most racially polarized institution--and jump-started the modern struggle for racial equality.

Excerpt

John Roach grew up in the South End of Boston, the son of West Indian immigrants. His father, a native of Montserrat, had fought for the British Empire in World War I in a unit composed entirely of darkskinned men and worked in Boston as a laborer; his mother worked for white families as a domestic. Roach’s neighborhood was mixed—“Chinese, Japanese, Italians, Greeks, Russians, all kinds of people.” Scraps with kids from the Irish neighborhoods nearby were not uncommon, but Roach cherished his experience growing up in the South End. “I think it was a gratifying experience to live in that area because it was like an international community,” he remembered. “You got to know each other and got to realize that no matter where you’re born, you’re a person. Everybody has likes and dislikes, everybody has quirks that you may or may not like. And you realize that you just take people as they come, and the better you treat them, the better they’ll treat you in most cases.” He learned something else from his parents: “You can’t fight your way up to the top with your fists. You can with your character.” Roach developed a keen mind and a strong character, and he expected to rise as high in life as his talents could take him.

As a child, Roach developed a fascination with airplanes. His mother later told him that when she took him for walks in his baby carriage, he would scan the skies for airplanes and point at them excitedly if any should pass overhead. In elementary school he found kindred spirits, two classmates who shared his interest in flying machines. “We found out that you could get to East Boston Airport by going down to Rose Wharf on Atlantic Avenue in Boston, and there was a ferry that went across the bay to the edges of the East Boston neighborhood. We’d walk along in front of where the ferry came in and where you paid your money to go across on the ferry, and we’d beg pennies from the neighbors going by until we had 4¢,” enough for ferry fare. From the ferry landing in East Boston they walked a mile or more to the airport.

“You couldn’t get out on the airport, but you could hang on the fence. And we would hang on the fence and watch the airplanes take off and land. Once in a while one would taxi by, and we’d just go out of our minds,” Roach said. “We’d do that all day on a Saturday after we had done our chores at home, and then we’d head on back, beg pennies again from the . . .

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