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The Color of Heroes - The Story of the Tuskegee Airmen



The Color of Heroes - The Story of the Tuskegee Airmen
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 9 to 12
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   8.23

Vocabulary
     challenging words:    bigotry, briefings, downing, enemies-the, feat-as, fighter-bomber, foe-bigotry, insurmountable, newly-promoted, policy-racism, red-painted, Schwarze, vogue, profound, squad, tactical
     content words:    War Department, African Americans, World War, As World War II, Army Air Corps, In June, Tuskegee Experiment, Pursuit Squadron, Tuskegee Institute, Booker T.


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The Color of Heroes - The Story of the Tuskegee Airmen
By Toni Lee Robinson
  

1     In 1940, the U.S. Congress went toe to toe with the War Department. At issue was a long-standing military policyŚracism. At the time, the color barrier in the U.S. military was a dense, insurmountable wall. African Americans had been allowed to serve only in support roles in World War I, as laborers, cooks and the like. The NAACP and other groups were pushing for better opportunities for black people. As World War II loomed, the military was under pressure to allow blacks into combat roles, even into the elite brotherhood of fighter pilots.
 
2     The War Department was strongly opposed to the change. Some even maintained that blacks lacked the intelligence or character to fly combat missions. In the end, the Army Air Corps was directed to test the idea of a unit of all-black fighter pilots. In June, 1941, the "Tuskegee Experiment" was launched. The 99th Pursuit Squadron was created at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. This school, founded by Booker T. Washington, was one of the few centers of higher education for African Americans. Training black pilots there would uphold the "separate but equal" policy in vogue at the time.
 
3     Candidates for the 99th had to meet the same high standards as any flight cadet. At the end of the first nine-month course, five cadets graduated as full-fledged fighter pilots in the U.S. Army Air Corps. One of them, West Point graduate Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. became captain of the squad. A full support staff, from mechanics to clerks, had also been trained. The unit was placed under the command of Colonel Noel Parrish, a white man who could see past the color barrier. Still, those in power balked at giving blacks a combat role. Parrish pushed Congress to allow the 99th to fulfill its destiny in combat. Finally, the squadron was sent into battle.

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