US President George W. Bush presents the Congressional Gold Medal to Dr. Roscoe Brown Jr., during ceremonies honoring about 300 Tuskegee Airmen Thursday, March 29, 2007, at the U.S. Capitol. Dr. Brown, Director of the Center for Urban Education Policy and University Professor at the Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York, commanded the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332 Fighter Group during World War II.
Most people today are not aware that prior to 1941, it was the policy of the U. S. War Department (Dept. of Defense) to maintain segregated military units in the Armed Forces. The few black infantry, cavalry, and artillery units that existed at that time in the army were commanded at the top ranks by white officers, with black officers relegated to the lower ranks. This system remained in force throughout World War I and World War II, with few exceptions. The Army Air Corps began training African Americans to become pilots at Alabama's Tuskegee University in 1941, under orders of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Army officials were skeptical of the skills of African Americans, largely basing their assumptions on a 1925 military study which concluded that African Americans lacked the courage and technical aptitude to be counted on in combat.
Nearly 1,000 African Americans earned their pilot's wings in the Tuskegee program between 1942 and 1946. They flew more than 15,000 sorties over North Africa and Europe during World War II, destroyed more than 250 enemy aircraft on the ground and 150 in the air and were so proficient at protecting U.S. and Allied bomber planes that squadrons requested that the pilots escort for them.