Academic journal article Air Power History

Ivory and Ebony: White Office Foes and Friends of the Tuskegee Airmen

Academic journal article Air Power History

Ivory and Ebony: White Office Foes and Friends of the Tuskegee Airmen

Article excerpt

The racism that challenged the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II pervaded the United States, including the War Department. Many Air Corps white officers resisted the training of black pilots in a service that had never had them before, or demanded that even their base facilities be strictly segregated, or opposed black pilots entering overseas combat, or attempted to take them out of combat. Yet, there were always other white officers who supported the Tuskegee Airmen, not only encouraging them but also contributing to their success. This article focuses on twelve white Army Air Forces officers, six of whom resisted the success of the black airmen, and six who supported them.

The first half considers six of the white Army Air Forces officers who opposed or at least hindered the success of the first black military pilots in American military history. Among them are Col. Frederick von Kimble, who increased racial segregation at Tuskegee Army Air Field; Col. William Momyer, who recommended that the 99th Fighter Squadron, the first black flying unit and the first one in combat, be removed from attachment to his 33d Fighter Group; Maj. Gen. Edwin J. House, commander of the XII Air Support Command, who recommended that the 99th Fighter Squadron be transferred away from the front lines and taken out of combat because "the negro type has not the proper reflexes to make a first-class fighter pilot"; Col. William Boyd, base commander of Selfridge Field, who enforced segregation there, despite the fact that it was in Michigan; Col. Robert Selway, who attempted to set up racially separate officer clubs at Freeman Field for black officers in the 477th Bombardment Group; and Gen. Frank O'Driscoll Hunter, who supported the segregationist policies of both Boyd and Selway.

The second half focuses on six other white Army Air Forces officers who defied convention and contributed to the success of the Tuskegee Airmen: Col. Noel F. Parrish, commander of Tuskegee Army Air Field, which provided the basic and advanced flying training for the black pilots; Maj. Robert M. Long, Director of Advanced Flying Training at Tuskegee Army Air Field, who personally conducted many of the advanced training flights; Maj. Philip Cochran, a member of the 33d Fighter Group, who helped train the 99th Fighter Squadron in P-40 combat tactics and navigation after the squadron first deployed to North Africa; Col. Leonard C. Lydon, commander of the 324th Fighter Group, to which the 99th Fighter Squadron was attached when it earned its first two Distinguished Unit Citations in June 1943 and May 1944; Col. Earl E. Bates, who commanded the 79th Fighter Group, to which the 99th Fighter Squadron was attached from October 16, 1943 to April 1, 1944, and with which it flew P-40s on successful combat missions for the Twelfth Air Force; and Lt. Gen. Ira C. Eaker, commander of the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces, who authorized the transfer of the black 332d Fighter Group to the Fifteenth Air Force and its equipment with the best fighters to escort B-17 and B-24 bombers on long-range strategic bombardment missions against enemy targets in Germany and occupied central Europe.

Colonel Frederick von Kimble

Col. Frederick von Kimble assumed command of Tuskegee Army Air Field at the beginning of 1942. A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point (class of 1918), he replaced Maj. James A. Ellison as post commander. Kimble inherited a base that was already largely segregated by race, but he was determined to not only enforce it but extend it as well. Not only quarters and dining facilities were marked off as for whites or colored personnel, but toilets as well. (1)

Colonel von Kimble also opposed fraternization between blacks and whites at Tuskegee Army Air Field, preferring that contacts be strictly between white trainers and black trainees. Although the new black pilots who would graduate during his tenure would be officers, they would never command any whites. …

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