June 9, 1943
It was an “experiment” that many in the military resisted: train African Americans to be military flyers. But with pressure from the NAACP, the African American press and support from then-first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and others, the Army on the eve of World War II began training African Americans to fly at Tuskegee Institute in Macon County. On June 9, 1943, the “Tuskegee Airmen” of the 99th Fighter Squadron were escorting Allied bombers over the island of Pantelleria, near Sicily, when four German fighters attacked from above. It was the first time the squadron faced air combat. Five of the American fighters pursued the enemy, while eight stayed with the bombers. Despite the surprise attack from a seasoned enemy, the unit suffered no losses. The Tuskegee Airmen would go on to distinguish themselves in two wars, paving the way for full integration of the Armed Forces.
For more on Alabama’s Bicentennial, visit Alabama 200.