Tuskegee Airmen Convention

Tuskegee Airmen Convention

Date Observed: A week in August
Location: Varies

The renowned World War II Tuskegee airmen, who inspired revolutionary reform in the U.S. armed forces, have reunited at an annual convention since 1972. During the convention, Tuskegee airmen are honored for their service and heroism in spite of many social barriers and the racially segregated military at the time.

Historical Background

Before the U.S. involvement in World War II, many U.S. military officials were under the false and prejudicial assumption that African Americans were not physically or psychologically suited for combat, particularly flight training with the U.S. Army Air Corps (which later became the U.S. Air Force). But in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched what was called the "Tuskegee Experiment." The military expected the experiment to fail and that the so-called "colored" were not capable of operating complex combat aircraft. However, men in the program proved them wrong.

In 1880 the Alabama State Legislature authorized the founding of Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama (it became Tuskegee University in 1985). On July 4, 1881, Booker T. Washington - the first teacher and principal of Tuskegee - opened the school, which grew into a major center for African-American education. There, for the first time in the history of the U.S. Army Air Corps, African-American men were trained as pilots, meteorologists, intelligence and engineering officers, flight surgeons, mechanics, control tower operators, and many other positions that support an air force squadron.

A full squadron completed training by 1942, but it remained at Tuskegee until 1943, under the leadership of Captain Benjamin O. Davis Jr., who became the first AfricanAmerican general of the U.S. Air Force. The squadron received additional training to help it prepare for combat. Under Davis's command, African-American fighter pilots fought in aerial battles over north Africa, Sicily, and Europe, flying in 15,553 sorties and 1,578 missions. From June 1944 to April 1945, the airmen flew 200 bomber escort missions, over most of central and southern Europe, without losing a single bomber to the enemy. To white American bomber crews, they were reverently known as "Black Redtail Angels" because of the bright red paint on the tail assemblies of their aircraft. German pilots both feared and respected the Tuskegee Airmen, calling them the "Schwartze Vogelmenschen," or "Black Birdmen."

In 1948 President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order that integrated the military. In 2005 the U.S. Congress passed a resolution honoring the Tuskegee airmen for their bravery in World War II and their role in creating an integrated U.S. Air Force. In 2006 Congress voted unanimously to present the airmen with the Congressional Gold Medal. Monuments and memorials in several states - including Colorado, Georgia, and Iowa - have been dedicated in honor of the airmen.

Creation of the Convention

After several well-attended reunions of retired Tuskegee airmen during the post-World War II years, the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. (TAI) was founded in Detroit, Michigan. The organization held its first convention in 1972. Since that time, the convention has helped to call attention to the airmen's heroic missions and to provide an opportunity to share their experiences with youth.

TAI is a non-military and non-profit organization, which has 46 chapters nationwide. Through its conventions and activities during the year, the TAI has conducted local and national programs that have introduced young people to the world of aviation and science. TAI also has provided awards to "deserving cadets" in the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps.


Convention events include meetings, training sessions, special youth programs, and an awards banquet. The Lonely Eagles Ceremony is a moving annual tribute to airmen who have died during the year. A bell tolls for each deceased airman as his name is read.

In 2006, fewer than 200 of the original 13,000 airmen were still alive, and many were unable to travel. Thus the organization decided to join with the members of the International Black Aerospace Council for their conference. The two groups support similar youth programs.

Contacts and Web Sites

"Legends of Tuskegee," an online exhibit by the National Park Service

Tuskegee Airmen, Incorporated P.O. Box 9166 Arlington, VA 22219

Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site 1212 W. Montgomery Rd. Tuskegee, AL 36088 334-727-3200; fax: 334-727-1448

Further Reading

Coleman, Stan. "Sharing the Legacy: Reservists Connect with the Past at Tuskegee Airmen Gathering." Citizen Airman, October 2004. Francis, Charles E. The Tuskegee Airmen: The Men Who Changed a Nation. Edited by Adolph Caso. Wellesley, MA: Branden Books, 1997. Homan, Lynn M., and Thomas Reilly. Black Knights: The Story of the Tuskegee Airmen. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 2001. McKissack, Patricia C., and Fredrick L. McKissack. Red-Tail Angels: The Story of the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II . New York: Walker and Company, 1995. (young adult) Mills, William G. "The Tuskegee Experience." Combat Edge, February 2005.
African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2007
References in periodicals archive ?
Bryan Radliff, 477th Fighter Group commander, during the 41st Annual Tuskegee Airmen Convention in.
Remarks at the Tuskegee Airmen Convention, San Antonio, July 31, 2010