The Tuskegee airmen were the first black aviators in the U.S. military, according to History. They served during World War II, when the military was still segregated and many people believed black people were inferior to whites.
The Tuskegee airmen initially were trained only as pilots, but later the available roles expanded to include navigators, mechanics and bombardiers after the initial program was a success, explains the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum. Their name comes from Tuskegee University, where approximately 1,000 airmen were trained during World War II. They faced pervasive racism from their fellow servicemen, including being treated like they were still in training and denied access to the Officer's Club.
One of the most famous groups of Tuskegee airmen was the 332nd Fighter Group, more commonly known as the Red Tails due to the distinctive red paint they applied to their planes, notes Tuskegee University. They received multiple Presidential Unit Citations for their outstanding records.
The Tuskegee airmen were significant both for their historical accomplishment and for their distinguished service, observes the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum. They became so well-respected that they are credited with helping convince President Harry Truman to issue an executive order in 1948 that mandated equal treatment and opportunity for everyone serving in the U.S. military, regardless of race. This eventually led to the total desegregation of the armed forces.