Heading To President's Desk For Signature
Michigan senators Carl
Levin and Debbie Stabenow hailed final approval Friday of
legislation to collectively honor the Tuskegee Airmen with the
Congressional Gold Medal.
The bill highlights the courageous accomplishments of the airmen
as pilots, as well as the revolutionary reforms they inspired in
the Armed Forces. The House of Representatives had already approved
the bill -- which was sponsored by New York Rep. Charlie Rangel. It
will now go to the President for his signature.
“The Tuskegee Airmen were a heroic and trailblazing force
in the struggle for civil rights and are richly deserving of the
highest honor that Congress can bestow upon them,” said
Levin, who wrote and sponsored the bill that included 77
cosponsors. “I am proud to play a part in ensuring that their
legacy is enshrined in American history.”
“This heroic group of African-American flyers fought in
two types of battles—the battle of World War II and the
battle against racism at home,” said Stabenow. “These
soldiers are a vital part of both America’s and
Michigan’s history, and I am thrilled they will finally
receive the recognition they deserve.”
The Tuskegee Airmen were not only unique in their military
record, but they inspired revolutionary reform in the armed forces,
paving the way for integration of the armed services in the U.S.
The largely college-educated Tuskegee Airmen overcame the enormous
challenges of prejudice and discrimination, succeeding despite
obstacles that threatened failure. What made these men exceptional
was their willingness to leave their families and put their lives
on the line to defend rights that were denied them here at
The story of the Tuskegee Airmen began in 1941, when President
Franklin Roosevelt ordered the creation of an all black flight
training program at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. President
Roosevelt did so one day after the NAACP filed suit in federal
court on behalf of a Howard University student and others to force
the Department of Defense to accept black pilot trainees.
The first aviation cadet class of 13 young black pilot
candidates began training at Tuskegee Army Air Field in the summer
of 1941. In September 1941, Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., a West
Point graduate, became the first African American to fly solo as a
US Army Air Corps officer. In March 1942, five young black pilots,
including Davis, successfully completed training and received Army
Air Corps silver pilot wings. Davis later became the first African
American to rise to the rank of general in the US Air Force.
Four hundred fifty African-American fighter pilots fought in
aerial battles over North Africa, Sicily and Europe during World
War II. Sixty-six of the pilots died in combat, while another 33
were shot down and captured as prisoners of war. The Tuskegee
Airmen were credited with 261 aircraft destroyed, 148 aircraft
damaged, 15,553 combat sorties and 1,578 missions. In addition, as
an escort fighter wing they never lost a bomber to enemy
German pilots both
feared and respected them. White American bomber crews referred to
them as "Redtailed Angels" because of the bright red paint on the
tail assemblies and because of their reputation for not losing
bombers to enemy fighters.
Altogether, almost 1,000 African-American pilots graduated from
Tuskegee Institute, with the last class finishing in June 1946.
Congress recognizes outstanding achievements through the
commissioning of Congressional Gold Medals. Since 1776,
approximately 300 people and the American Red Cross have received
Awardees include individuals from diverse backgrounds including
the military, arts, athletics, aviation, exploration, politics,
religion, medicine, science and entertainment.