Red Tail Captured, Red Tail Free: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman and POW

Red Tail Captured, Red Tail Free: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman and POW

Red Tail Captured, Red Tail Free: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman and POW

Red Tail Captured, Red Tail Free: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman and POW


This book is a rare and important gift. One of the few memoirs of combat in World War II by a distinguished African-American flier, it is also perhaps the only account of the African-American experience in a German prison camp.Alexander Jefferson was one of 32 Tuskegee Airmen from the 332nd Fighter Group to be shot down defending a country that considered them to be second-class citizens. A Detroit native, Jefferson enlisted in 1942, trained at Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, became a second lieutenant in 1943, and joined one of the mostdecorated fighting units in the War, flying P51s with their legendary--and feared --"red tails."Based in Italy, Jefferson flew bomber escort missions over southern Europe before being shot down in France in 1944. Captured, he spent the balance of the war in Luftwaffe prison camps in Sagan and Moosberg, Germany.In this vividly detailed, deeply personal book, Jefferson writes as a genuine American hero and patriot. It's an unvarnished look at life behind barbed wire-- and what it meant to be an African-American pilot in enemy hands. It's also a look at race and democracy in America through the eyes of a patriot who fought toprotect the promise of freedom.The book features the sketches, drawings, and other illustrations Jefferson created during his nine months as a "kriegie" (POW) and Lewis Carlson's authoritative background to the man, his unit, and the fight Alexander Jefferson fought so well.


I was treated better as a
POW than I was back


—Lt. Colonel Alexander

I first met Alexander Jefferson in 1993 when I interviewed him for a book on World War II prisoners of war. He was one of thirty-two Tuskegee Airmen from the 332nd Fighter Group who was shot down defending a country that still considered blacks to be second-class citizens. He, like thousands of other African Americans, including 992 Tuskegee Airmen, had fought against Hitler’s racism in a military so segregated that even its blood plasma was separated by race.

I met him again several years later when he was an honored guest at the Celebrate Freedom Festival in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Jefferson, who had retired as a lieutenant colonel from the Air Force Reserve on July 1, 1969, happened to be the ranking officer among the several former prisoners of war being honored that day, but he was the only African American. I thought to myself, what a fascinating slice of history. Here is a man who as a young black student in Atlanta, Georgia, lived in such a racially proscribed world that he was not even allowed to walk in the city’s parks. Now he is giving an inspirational address to an appreciative, overwhelmingly white audience in one of the former states of the Confederacy.

When Alexander Jefferson was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1944, white America thought it knew its African Americans. Unfortunately, what it knew came largely from cultural stereotypes that were meant to reassure insecure whites that blacks needed to be kept firmly in their place. Black women were seen as fat, jovial Aunt Jemimas who nurtured appreciative white youngsters. Black men, on the other hand, were expected to play the “coon,” afraid of their own shadow, and always clowning for the amusement of white audiences. A movie actor named Stepin Fetchit became a star in the 1930s and early 1940s playing this shuffling, lazy, chicken-stealing child-man. These same stereotypes could also be found in popular songs, novels and short stories, crude cartoons, and on weekly radio shows. In short, here was something less than a man who clearly was not ready for full citizenship, let alone capable of flying an airplane. That such images did not reflect reality mattered little to . . .

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