STRUGGLES FOR EQUALITY: ABROAD AND AT HOME – THE CASE OF THE TUSKEGEE AIRMEN (This Web Magazine cited for Historical references) by Norman Faria

Bajan Reporter comment: Just got this e-mail and learned that one of the Tuskegee Airmen died last month. Having followed their career as one of them was a Bajan, I was pleasantly surprised to learn this Web-Magazine was credited for research and the item made the Print edition of the Sunday Times!

The death last month at age 90 of Lt.Col. Lee Archer, one of the few remaining veterans of the 332nd Fighter Group of the US Army Air Corps during World War II, brings to mind the sterling and pioneering contribution of this all-black combat unit on the military field and for social justice at home.

These were about 16,000 personnel, both pilots and ground crew, who are popularly known as the “Tuskegee Airmen” who began training in 1941 served in the War effort. They did they do their part in the Allied forces to help defeat German fascism. More importantly perhaps, their individual initiatives to join the US armed forces in the 1940’s helped the civil rights movement. This occurred at a time when people of colour in general were discriminated against including in the armed forces were the races were segregated.

Black pilots were not permitted to fly combat missions. Backward an/or misinformed elements in the armed forces tp brass argued that blacks didn’t have the intellience to fly combat missions. Pressures from several fronts, including the need for more personnel, saw then US President Roosevelt and the US Congress forcing the armed forces to permit black airmen. His wife Eleanor personally had a black pilot fly her personal plane to set an example. However, blacks in the fighter air wing , like other infantry and naval units, was segregated into the 332nd Group (only after the War under President’s Truman’s watch was the Forces desegretated, meaning all colours could serve equally side by side).

They served with distinction and valour. It is widely reported that on the bombing missions over Europe, they never lost a single bomber. A total of 994 pilots were trained, mainly at the Tuskege airfield in Alabama state (hence the name). A total of 445 were deployed overseas.

Some 150 lost their lives either in combat or in accidents. According to the Wikepedia internet site for which I am grateful for some of this information, the airmen won an incredible 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, eight Purple Hearts an 14 Bronze Stars among other medals for exemplary service. A small number who were shot down served time in German prisoner of war camps.Remarkably, among their outstanding record was the shooting down of three of the only operational jet fighter craft in the War, the feared Messerschimdt Me 262 of the German air force the Luftwaffe.

The surviving (there are 119 pilots and 211 ground crew still alive at the beginning of this year) Tuskegee Airmen were invited to President Obama’s inauguaration.

My thanks to a friend of my mother's who forwarded this e-mail to me!
My thanks to a friend of my mother’s who forwarded this e-mail to me! Image Courtesy; Cheryl Gould-Bailey

There are Caribbean links. Because of the immigration to the US over the years from the circum-Caribbean area, some of the airmen or ground crew (like mehanics and ammunition loaders) were undoubtedly born there or were descendants of these immigrants. According to the Bajan Reporter website, at least one was born in Barbados.

He was Col. Fitzroy “Buck” Newsam. The name Archer is a common Afro-Barbadian name and more research is needed to see if he has any roots in the islands. Some of the airmen and ground crew would have been of mixed race including from Hispanic families, perhaps of Puerto Rican descent.

As an aside, American indigenous native peoples (called Amerindians in Guyana) also served with distinction in the War. As related in the movie “Windtalkers” starring Nicolas Cage, they are more well known for being radio operators in the Pacific theartre of the War. The Navaho language they used was virtually impossible to understsnd by the Japanese monitoring US soldiers’ radio broadcasts.

We must look at how the (political) state and big business corpoations culture encouraged racial divisions at the time (the 1940’s) in the USA. We must not blame the American white people, some of whom supported and worked for the ending of discrimitory laws and attitudes in the dominant society. Even back then, there must have been some co-operation among the different races in actual combat activities in World War II. Eventually the US armed forces became fully intergrated, though of course as with any armed forces with several races (and religions ), there may still be areas needing attention.

Lt. Col Archer, on an October 2005 Iraq visit to meet with airmen and women (apparently there were very few original Tuskegee women – I couldn’t find any reference to them) in a unit coming out of the 332nd, is reported by the Associated Press to have told them: “This is the new Air Force. (I see) black, white, Asian, Pacific Islanders, peoples from all parts of Europe. This is what America is.”

Lt.Col Archer was among the first batch of enlistees. He is one of the three (others include Captain Joseph D. Elsberry and Captain Edward L. Toppin {Another Bajan?}) who are credited with shooting down four German planes.

Norman Faria is Guyana's Honorary Consul in Barbados. Responses can be sent to:

Norman Faria is Guyana's Honorary Consul in Barbados. Responses can be sent to:

Tellingly, Archer shot down three in one day in combat over German occupied Hungary on 12 Ocober 1944. At the time, he was flying one of the great American fighter planes of the War, the P-51 Mustang.

Archer claimed he shot down another plane on another occasion but it wasn’t confirmed. If he had the credited five, he would be considered an ace. He flew the relatively high number of 169 combat missions mainly escorting bombers over Europe.

After he retired from the armed forces in 1970, Lt.Col Archer worked with General Foods from 1970 to 1987 as a Vice-President heading their small business invsetment unit. He attended New York University and grew up in Harlem. He lived in New Rochelle, New York state.

He is survived by three sons and one daughter. His wife Ina Archer died in 1996.

There is extensive literature, and even a movie, on the Tuskegee Airmen (pronounced Too-Ski-Gee) but it is sometimes good to recall exemplary contributions to humankind’s natural urge to make our societies better for all of us.

Let us remember the Tuskegee Airmen who did their part to defeat German fascism so that the great democratic traditions of the US could be deepened. Let us remember them for their role in further highlighting the need for an end to iand injustice against people of colour in that fine country. Let us remmeber them as part of the American people.

One Response

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.



add a comment

Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.