Before 1940, African Americans were prohibited from flying airplanes for the U.S. military. In response to the efforts of civil rights organizations to secure equal opportunities for African Americans—and media attention to those efforts—President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45) ordered the formation of an all-African American squadron in 1940. This squadron became known as the Tuskegee Airmen (TA).
The TA were trained at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama . The school was chosen for its commitment to aeronautical training, and it had the facilities, engineering, and instructors to get the job done. The training program, called the Tuskegee Experiment, was part of the Army Air Corps, and the squadron included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, and all other levels of staff and personnel required to keep airplanes in the air.
The first Civilian Pilot Training Program participants successfully completed their training in May 1940. The program was expanded and became the center of African American aviation during World War II (1939–45). The TA was one of the most highly respected squadrons of the war, disproving racial stereotypes.
The TA eventually included more than fifteen thousand members. Sixty-six TA pilots were killed in action or accidents, and another thirty-two became prisoners of war. The squadron was awarded 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 744 Air Medals, 14 Bronze Stars, and 8 Purple Hearts.
In November 1998 the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site at Moton Field in Tuskegee, Alabama, was established to commemorate the heroism of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II.