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The Forgotten History of an African American Fighter Pilot

by Thomas E. Simmons

Pub Date: Feb. 7th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-62087-217-8
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing

The forgotten history of John Charles Robinson (1903–1954), a pioneer African-American aviator and educator.

Simmons (Forgotten Heroes of World War II, 2002, etc.) brings to life Robinson's inspiring struggle against racism through the story of how he rose to become the commander of Haile Selassie's air force in Ethiopia's attempt to defend itself against Mussolini's brutal invasion. The author traces how Robinson, a Tuskegee-educated auto mechanic, could not find employment up to his skill level in Gulfport, Miss., where he grew up. He left for Detroit to work as a mechanic but had to confront the prejudice that black men and aviation could not mix. He moved on again to Chicago, where he mastered aviation mechanics by auditing classes while employed as the office cleaner. When he couldn't afford a plane, members of the flying club he set up helped him to make one. Robinson’s qualities were eventually recognized by the Curtiss-Wright aviation business. He organized flight schools and worked on a project to establish an aviation program at the Tuskegee Institute. Returning to America to a hero's welcome after fighting Mussolini, Robinson was able to awaken the public to what the country would need to do to fight its likely German and Italian enemies in the coming war. Simmons documents how Robinson again overcame prejudice working to develop the engineering and technical infrastructure that supported the segregated black units in World War II. Robinson's determination to succeed helped make the bomber escort units known as the Tuskegee Red Tails possible. He returned to Ethiopia after Mussolini's occupation to help rebuild the country's air service.

An inspiring affirmation that celebrates the old adage that where there's a will, there's a way, even against seemingly impossible odds.