Philadelphia International Airport has opened a new exhibition to celebrate the history of the ‘Tuskegee Airmen’ – a group of World War Two African-American aviators who battled racial segregation and ended up as war heroes.
Before World War Two, the military in the US was segregated and African Americans were barred from becoming military pilots.
However, in 1939, Dale White and Chauncey Spencer piloted an aircraft from Chicago to Washington, to gather support for the inclusion of African-Americans in the Army Air Corps.
The same year, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Civilian Pilot Training Program in anticipation of the inevitable conflict and in 1940 he directed the Army to train black pilots.
As a result, the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama was one of six black colleges the military chose to provide flight instruction to African-American civilians.
Nearly 70 years ago on July 19, the Army Air Corps program at Tuskegee began and the first class of 13 African-American aviation cadets began their military flight training.
The exhibit, located in Terminal A-East at Philadelphia Airport, tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen through 50 black and white images.
The historic photos depict the first class of 13 cadets and follow their training as military pilots and their accomplishments as war heroes.
By the end of World War Two, of the 992 men who graduated from the pilot training program at Tuskegee, 450 were sent overseas for assignment.
The Airmen ran more than 200 bomber escort missions during the war and 66 of them lost their lives while in combat.
Mark Gale, CEO at Philadelphia Airport, said: “As America celebrates our nation’s birthday, it is a most appropriate time to present this wonderful exhibit to the traveling public who come through our Airport from all over the world.”
“The Tuskegee Airmen would not only dispel the myths that kept African-Americans from becoming military pilots prior to World War II, they would receive numerous honours for their outstanding performance and extraordinary heroism.”