The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project is a university-chartered research center associated with the Department of History of The George Washington University

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Teaching Eleanor Roosevelt Glossary

[picture: Eleanor Roosevelt with Charles Anderson, 1941] Due to racial discrimination, African American servicemen were not allowed to learn to fly until 1941, when African American college graduates were selected for what the Army called "an experiment"-- the creation of the segregated 99th Fighter Squadron, which trained at an airfield adjacent to Alabama's Tuskegee Institute. The experiment involved training black pilots and ground support members who originally formed the 99th Pursuit Squadron. The squadron, quickly dubbed the Tuskegee Airmen, was activated on March 22, 1941, and redesignated as the 99th Fighter Squadron on May 15, 1942. For every black pilot there were 10 other black civilian, officer and enlisted men and women on ground support duty.

Charles Alfred Anderson, the first African American to earn his pilot's license, became the first flight instructor when the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) was organized at Tuskegee Institute in October 1939. The army decided to model its training program on the CPTP and hired Anderson to teach the Tuskegee pilots.

When Eleanor Roosevelt visited Tuskegee Army Air Field in 1941, she insisted on taking a ride in an airplane with a black pilot at the controls. ER's pilot was Charles Anderson. ER then insisted that her flight with Anderson be photographed and the film developed immediately so that she could take the photographs back to Washington when she left the field. ER used this photograph as part of her campaign to convince FDR to activate the participation of the Tuskegee Airmen in North Africa and in the European Theater.

In June 1943, the Tuskegee Airmen entered into combat over North Africa. The Airmen exemplified courage, skill and dedication in combat. They flew P-39-, P-40-, P-47- and P-51-type aircraft in more than 15,000 sorties, completing over 1,500 missions during the war. No other escort unit could claim such a record. When the war ended, the Tuskegee Airmen returned home with one hundred and fifty Distinguished Flying Crosses, Legions of Merit and the Red Star of Yugoslavia. The group was deactivated in May 1946 but its success would contribute to the eventual integration of the United States military. The fruit of the efforts of the airmen would be harvested in the eventual 1948 desegregation of the U.S. Armed Forces.


Boyer, Paul, et al. The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000, 774.

Estell, Kenneth, ed. The African American Almanac. 8th ed. Detroit: Gale Group, 2000, 1218.

Hoyt, Davina. "Tuskegee Airmen of World War II." Internet on-line. Available From

"Eleanor Roosevelt with 'Chief'' Charles Alfred Johnson." The University Gallery, The University of Delaware. In "Through These Eyes: The Photography of P. H. Polk." Internet on-line. Available From