Moye (History/Univ. of North Texas) takes a sober, probing look at the complicated segregated context in which black men trained and were deployed as pilots during World War II.
Integration of the Armed Services came by President Truman’s executive decree in 1948, and then as a political re-election nudge, but it was largely due to the valiant performance and active advocacy for equal rights by the black pilots such as those trained at Tuskegee Army Flying School. Before WWII, segregation reigned in all aspects of American life, and the Army War College maintained strict racist stereotypes regarding black soldiers—they were superstitious, “susceptible to the influence crowd psychology” and “unmoral [sic],” according to the “pseudoscientific” 1925 study “The Use of Negro Manpower in War.” However, by June 1941 Roosevelt was aware of the danger of alienating blacks from an all-out war effort, recognizing the significance of their power: “Our problem is to harness and hitch it up for action on the broadest, daring and most gigantic scale.” Thanks to lobbying by presidents of historically black colleges like Wilberforce, Hampton and Tuskegee, the creation of the Civilian Pilot Training Act of 1939 allotted allowances for the training of black pilots as well as whites. The NAACP and others objected to the segregation of black pilots at Tuskegee as a creation of “a Jim Crow air squadron.” Nonetheless, nearly 1,000 pilots graduated from the program, and nearly half of them flew in combat, proving mightily to the world their capabilities. Moye follows the careers of many of these pilots, their experience of discrimination in the Army and shameful treatment afterward, and how vigorous efforts by Eleanor Roosevelt, William H. Hastie and others helped change perceptions.
A scholarly but accessible treatment of a significant forerunner of the civil-rights movement.