Grand opening of Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site

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On November 6, 1998, President Clinton signed legislation establishing Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site at Moton Field in Tuskegee, Alabama. This was an honor fairly won and long overdue. During World War II the Tuskegee Airmen, the name given to the patriots participating in the "Tuskegee Experiment," did a truly remarkable thing when they overcame prejudice to not only become America's first all-black American fighter squadron, but also compile an enviable combat record in war torn Europe. In a larger sense, the Tuskegee Airmen's achievements also help pave the way for full integration of the U.S. military.

Institutionalized racial segregation kept black pilots and crewmen out of military aircraft for many decades. In fact, it wasn't until 1941 that African-Americans finally won the right to fly for the U.S. armed forces. When the go-ahead to form a black fighter squadron for the Army Air Corps finally came, it was only logical that the men should be mustered and trained at the Tuskegee Institute's Moton Field in Alabama. The leading black college was well-suited to train military pilots and support personnel because the facilities and instructors were already in place. Tuskegee's Civilian Pilot Training Program had graduated its first pilots in May 1940. An additional consideration was prevailingly warm and sunny weather conducive to year round flying.

Everyone who participated in the so-called "Tuskegee Experiment" – the instructors, staff, pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance workers, and others – came to be known as "the Tuskegee Airmen." Altogether, "the experiment to see if blacks could fly and fight" involved 994 pilots (plus "washouts") and more than 15,000 support personnel.

The Tuskegee Airmen did remarkably well. They not only proved that black pilots, crew members, and support personnel could fly and maintain sophisticated combat aircraft, but also proved themselves in combat. Some 450 of the pilots served overseas.

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