Before the Red Tails

I grew up in South Carolina, and one of the people we learned about in history class was Mary McLeod Bethune. I had forgotten that she was involved in the National Youth Administration during the Depression, but she was responsible for making sure that the Civilian Pilot Training Program included Tuskegee Institute, Hampton Institute, Virginia State, North Carolina A&T, Delaware State, West Virginia State and Howard University. There’s a fascinating article about Bethune, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Willa Beatrice Brown. If not for their actions, there would have been no Tuskegee Airmen.

Brown was the first African-American woman to receive a commission as a lieutenant in the U.S. Civil Air Patrol. The article mentions that she influenced a number of newspapers to cover air shows held by the all-black Challenger Air Pilots Association, generating interest in aviation in the black community. Brown and Bethune lobbied the White House for integration in aviation, which then led to Eleanor Roosevelt’s visit to Tuskegee. There, over the objections of the Secret Service, the First Lady rode with chief flight instructor, Charles A. “Chief” Anderson in his Piper J-3 Cub.

The rest, as they say, is history. Mrs. Roosevelt lobbied for more funding for pilot training, and Chief Anderson trained over 1,000 pilots at Tuskegee.

1 thought on “Before the Red Tails”

  1. It is true that people can move mountains. Thanks for the info. This isn’t covered in the kids’ history classes, and would make a nice addition to their curriculum.

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