Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tuskegee Airmen, Jim Crow Laws and Black Pilots

Tuskegee Airmen, the first American-trained black pilots to fly under Jim Crow laws, history captured

Maycie Herrington (1918- )
Maycie Herrington (1918- )
Photo from the 1940s
Clerk Tuskegee
Training Center
Maycie Herrington has spent most of her adult life collecting, organizing and preserving historic documents and photographs concerning the history of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group that produced a fearless group of World War II (WWII) air warriors, the Red Tails, getting this name when the black pilots painted the tails of their aircraft red to distinguish their planes.  The significance of the story of the first African American aerial combat unit, Red Tails, is so important to American history that George Lucas has produced a new motion picture starring Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding, Jr.. This action adventure film, nearly a quarter century in the making, tells a true story of heroism.

Red Tails, Tuskegee Airmen
Red Tails - Big Black Hollywood Movie
George Lucas, Executive Producer & Writer 
Opens Second at Box Office
The WWII Training experiment at the Tuskegee Airmen Center, where Maycie Herrington worked at the time, produced the first U.S. black fighter pilots trained for combat.

The efforts of the Tuskegee Airmen, Maycie Herrington and many others like them led to full participation of African Americans in American life. Maycie, George Lucas and others are documenting history that is a fading memory of people and events distantly identified with a foggy and nearly forgotten past, subjects, like so many others, in which interest only increases with the passage of time, the passing on of the participants and the curiosity of a new generation.

Maycie Herrington and George Lucas share and have acted upon a common interest.

  • On a 23-year mission, George Lucas had to put $58 million of his own money into the making of Red Tails, a film of the Tuskegee Airmen because the movie industry is still reluctant to finance a black Hollywood film.
  • On a nearly 70-year mission, Maycie Herrington has devoted more than two-thirds of her life to documenting and preserving Tuskegee Airmen history, which is now collected into a permanent archive established in the Special Collections & Archives of the University of California, Riverside (UCR) Libraries, officially classified as: The Maycie Herrington Papers, Collection 251: The Tuskegee Airmen Archive, University of California, Riverside Libraries, Special Collections & Archives. 
Tuskegee Airmen Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony
Tuskegee Airmen Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony
Maycie was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in 2007 for her civilian role in supporting the Tuskegee Airmen and her work at the Tuskegee Army Air Force Base in Tuskegee, Alabama, during World War II (WWII). Along with about 300 surviving Tuskegee Airmen, Maycie was honored at a ceremony in Washington D.C. by then president, George W. Bush and former president Bill Clinton. In that number, there were 40 Red Tail combat pilots.

In addition to Maycie's documents others have contributed titles to this collection. Tuskegee Airmen, the first black U.S. pilots to fly military airplanes, known as the Red Tails, faced Jim Crow in the skies over Europe during WWII. 

Maycie Herrington means more to me than a collection of memories and historical documents. What Maycie did for American history did not stop when she left Tuskegee after the war. For the last 70 years, Maycie has guarded the details of the Tuskegee Airmen with the dedication of a mother hen guarding her eggs. She knew the Tuskegee Airmen. They were friends of hers and her Tuskegee Airman husband, Aaron Herrington. Over the past 70 years, she has remained friends with them, even after Aaron's death. "I felt it was my duty," she said. "To keep up with the details, stay in touch and remain active in the organization."

Tuskegee Students Sew Aviation insignias
Tuskegee Students Sew Aviation insignias
Photo: Air Force Historical Research Agency
Maycie Herrington, born in Raleigh, North Carolina, on November 7, 1918, the year that World War I (WWI) ended.  She has lived in Long Beach, California, since the end of World War II (WWII) and Maycie continues to make presentations and to lecture on the Tuskegee Airmen. An expert on the history of this group of African American pilots, Maycie served as secretary at the Tuskegee Alabama Airfield during those critical years of airmen training and WWII fighter pilot active duty, as well as being historian and secretary to the group of former military black pilots until 2005, long after their service duties had ended.

When Tuskegee was chosen to train black pilots, the Civilian Pilot Training Program had already completed aeronautical training of students by May 1940. Tuskegee's Moton Airfield Institute was named for Robert Russa Moton, its second president and funded by the Julius Rosenwald Fund.

Maycie Herrington, part of the professional civilian support staff associated with Tuskegee Airmen training, was among more than 10,000 African Americans, military and civilian that, according Legends of Tuskegee, “supported the pilots in training at Tuskegee as instructors, officers, bombardiers, navigators, radio technicians, mechanics, air traffic controllers, parachute riggers, and electrical and communications specialists.”

Tuskegee Airmen
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Maycie Herrington's papers, part of the Tuskegee Airmen Archive, contain photographs, prints, posters and unpublished documents associated with the Tuskegee Airmen’s World War II (WWII) military history and also general African American history of the period. 

The Tuskegee archive contains printed and photographic documents and materials about personnel that served at the Tuskegee Army Air Field, their predecessors, and their non-profit organization, Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.

The Tuskegee training lasted from 1941 until 1945 shortly after the war ended. The Tuskegee Airmen story is such an important part of American history and culture that movies, television shows, documentaries and presentations have been made to commemorate the short life of the training facility, including the HBO - Tuskegee Airmen, starring Laurence Fishburne and the PBS - The Tuskegee Airmen. 


Maycie Herrington's biography is included in BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way, a book of twelve historical profiles--filmed, compiled, edited and written--about twelve African American women who made a noteworthy difference in the history of Long Beach, California.

BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way: (rear) Evelyn Knight, Patricia Lofland, Bobbie Smith, Alta Cooke,  Carrie Bryant, Vera Mulkey, Wilma Powell, and Doris Topsy-Elvord; (seated) Autrilla Scott, Maycie Herrington, Dale Clinton and Lillie Mae Wesley (not present). Go to my YouTube video, BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way, to see excerpts of the interviews. While you're there, join my Channel and see more videos about U.S. race relations and civil rights.

Maycie Herrington Tuskegee Airmen Lecture
Maycie Herrington
Tuskegee Airmen Lecture

Through the study of individual biographies, like that of Maycie Herrington, other significant eras in the history of race relations in American history like Tuskegee Airmen military history are illuminated. Further,  one gets a better understanding of race relations  in the United States as well as the full impact of protests like the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, the Woolworth's Sit-ins in 1960 and the Freedom Riders in 1961.

According to UCR Libraries: Tuskegee bases had ground and civilian staff for nonflying duties. Maycie Harrington, a civilian employee at the base hospital, married to cadet Aaron Harrington, is active in the Los Angeles Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. The Tuskegee Airmen Archive at the University of California, Riverside has an enlarged photo of Lena Horne with several airmen, including Celes King III, who may have met her when she stayed in the Los Angeles Dunbar Hotel managed by his uncle.

Eugene Bullard (1894-1961)
Eugene Bullard (1894-1961)
The Tuskegee Airmen were not the first black pilots the world had seen. Eugene Bullard was a French-trained American black pilot, who never flew for his country. Eugene Jacques Bullard was born in 1894 in Columbus, Georgia. His father, William Octave Bullard, originally from Martinique, a West Indies Island, who spoke French as his first language, traced his heritage back several generations. In Haiti, William Bullard was a slave, whose owners fled, taking him to the United States during the slave revolt and Haitian Revolution (1791–1804), a French colonial conflict in Saint-Domingue that ended slavery there, which the slaves renamed Haiti.

Eugene's mother, Josephine (Yokalee) Thomas, was a Creek, Native American. Eugene's mother died when he was five years old. Bullard's father William advised his son early in his life to go to France where a man could be a man, ironic advice from a man who was dominated by French-Haitian owners all of his life. It is said that the Eugene saw his father narrowly escape being lynched and, at age eight, left home, wandering America, living with Gypsies, working odd jobs and learning to make a living with horses. At 12, he sailed to Scotland on a German ship, soon moving to Glasgow then Liverpool before joining the French Foreign Legion.

Eugene Bullard, entered AĆ©ronautique Militaire in 1916, got his wings in 1917 and flew WWI missions for France. After the U.S. entered WWI, Bullard tried to join the U.S. Air Force but was rejected. He was told that his being an enlisted soldier and not of a ranking officer made him unacceptable. He was certain that racial prejudice prevented him from flying for his country. Read a more complete story of the life Eugene Bullard in the article, Corporal Eugene Jacques Bullard First Black American Fighter Pilot by William I. Chivalette in Air & Space Power Journal, 2005. For more information on the general history of American aviation, visit:

Aaron Herrington, Tuskegee Airman
Aaron Herrington
It would take the second World War, WWII, to convince the United States military that a pilot like African American, Aaron Herrington, Maycie Herrington's husband, was capable of risking his life in the air for democracy. There were no training facilities in the United States at the time that would train black aviators. For decades, American lore held firmly to the Jim Crow notion that black Americans were intellectually incapable of learning to fly an airplane.

Maycie met Aaron, at Saint Augustine College. When Maycie Herrington was born, the year after Eugene Bullard got his wings, there were not only no training facilities for black pilots, there were no public schools for African Americans in Raleigh, North Carolina, where her family lived. She attended private Saint Augustine until fourth grade when she was transferred to public school and remained through high school. She graduated from Washington High School in 1936. In the meantime, Saint Augustine had become a four year college, which Maycie attended, working her way through and graduating in 1940.

Tuskegee Airmen by Homan, 
Lynn M./ Reilly, Thomas/ Reilly, Thomas [Pap
(Google Affiliate Ad)
Maycie and Aaron married in August 1942, and accompanied to Tuskegee, Alabama, after he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corp. While Aaron was stationed at Tuskegee, Maycie was employed at the base where she became fascinated with the history being made there and starting to take meticulous notes that would be come the living history of the Tuskegee Airmen and the Red Tails. Aaron graduated in May 1943 but due to a crash in his final phase graduated in May 1943 but due to a crash in his final phase of training he did not serve overseas. Aaron died October 1, 1995. Maycie kept up his membership in the Los Angeles chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., became an active member in 1996 and was elected secretary in 1998.

A. Philip Randolph Eleanor Roosevelt
A. Philip Randolph
Eleanor Roosevelt
During WWII, African American pilot training programs got the attention of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who became persuaded by his wife, Eleanor, some say, to consider the notion that America was ready for a training program for black pilots at Tuskegee.

BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way Edited by Sunny Nash
Edited by Sunny Nash

(l-r, rear) Evelyn Knight, Patricia Lofland
Bobbie Smith, Alta Cooke, Carrie Bryant
Vera Mulkey, Wilma Powell, Doris Topsy-Elvord
(seated l-r) Autrilla Scott, Maycie Herrington
Dale Clinton & Lillie Mae Wesley (not present) 

Limited Edition Collector's Package Includes: 
Book, DVD, Signed Portrait

In Tuskegee Airmen History, Herrington wrote her account of the Tuskegee Airmen, published by the Tuskegee Airmen, Los Angeles Chapter, She wrote: Efforts to have Negroes become a part of the Army Air Corp began in the late 1930's with the combined efforts of such men as Walter White of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, A. Philip Randolph, President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, The Pittsburgh Courier Newspaper, Roy Wilkins, Charles Hill, Robert Vann and Arnold Hill. These men were determined that Negroes in the military would not be treated the same as they were in World War I.

In the spring of 1941 after calling to get the Air Force to accept Negroes for pilot training, A. Philip Randolph went to the White House with what he called a proposal, but in President Roosevelt's eyes, it was viewed as a threat. Randolph said to Roosevelt in his booming voice, "there has to be a fair employment practice commission, with the power to investigate discrimination in government agencies and in companies working under government contracts, in order to ensure equal employment for Negroes in both. Randolph realized it would be difficult to get congressional approval but felt that President Roosevelt could create a temporary commission by executive order. To stress the important of this demand, Randolph said he would bring a hundred thousand Negroes to Washington on July 1, 1941 for a massive protest march.

A. Philip Randolph:
Adolescent Gender
Diversity and Violence
 by Kerste (Google
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Baseops Flight Planning Aviation Weather

A. Philip Randolph and the Struggle for Civil Rights traces U.S. civil rights of the mid-20th century, beginning in the 1920-30s, for which Randolph is credited for shaping, a guide in the 1950s-60s by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. This monumental book about Randolph by Cornelius Bynum covers his protest career, from the organization of Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a black rail union, to threatening a march on Washington as early as 1941.

Herrington said, “A. Philip Randolph included a demand for the immediate designation of centers where Negroes would be trained for work in all branches of the aviation corp. He said it was not enough to only train pilots. In addition, navigators, bombardiers, gunners, radiomen and mechanics must be trained in order to facilitate full Negro participation in the air service. 

Lena Horne & Tuskegee Airmen
Lena Horne & Tuskegee Airmen
Rual Bell, Major L. Whitmon
 Edward Moody & Celes King III
Maycie Herrington wrote: The President sent his wife (Eleanor Roosevelt) and Fiorelio LaGuardia, the mayor of New York City, to visit Randolph at his union headquarters to try again to persuade him to change his mind about the march.

In April 1941, the First Lady traveled to Tuskegee and flew with Charles A. “Chief” Anderson, an African American who trained many of the 1,000 pilots in the Tuskegee program. Celebrities such as Lena Horne, also became involved in public relations campaigns for the Tuskegee program. They did their best.

They told Randolph that Washington's police force was filled with White Southerners who could not be trusted to protect the marchers. There was a danger of violence. "There's going to be bloodshed and death in Washington. You're going to get Negroes slaughtered," LaGuardia told him. "If you bring a hundred thousand people there," Eleanor Roosevelt added, "nobody will be able to control them. After Mrs. Roosevelt and Mayor LaGuardia left, he went back to work. President Roosevelt's problem was that many members of Congress were already opposing him on everything he tried to do and even the whisper of a fair employment commission would set them off like Roman Candles. He knew that senators John Rankin and Theodore Bilbo from Mississippi would violently oppose any such action. In spite of this Randolph refused to yield and President Roosevelt had to make a choice, the commission or a march.

Philip Randolph
by Gertrude, Mary
(Google Affiliate Ad)
Father of the modern Civil Rights Movement, Asa Philip Randolph, born in 1889 in Florida, studied in New York. and formed the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925; helped form the Fair Employment Practices Committee; and threatened to organize a protest in Washington against discrimination in the armed forces and defense industries in the 1930s and 40s.

In 1955, he joined the AFL-CIO executive council and was vice president in 1957. Randolph helped to organize the 1963 March on Washington. In his life, Randolph and First lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, teamed up to support civil rights in the armed services and pilot training programs at Tuskegee Institute.

Before he died in 1979, Randolph was declared the most dangerous African American in the nation. 

Maycie Herrington wrote: Randolph refused to back down on his demand. The President sent a message to a young lawyer on his staff, Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. "We need an Executive Order for Fair Employment Practices Commission and we need it in a few hours." It became the famous Executive Order 8802. As Rauh worked to meet his deadline he coined a phrase that was to become one of the most powerful and familiar in American life. "No discrimination on the grounds of race, color, creed or national origin." The march was cancelled. On September 16, 1941, President Roosevelt signed the Burke-Wadsworth Bill, better known as the Selective Service Act. The bill prohibited racial discrimination on voluntary enlistment in any branch of the armed forces, including aviation units. The passage of the act, however, did not immediately open the Air Corps to Negroes. Next, First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt arranged for Walter White, A. Philip Randolph, and T Arnold Hill, a National Youth Administration Official to meet with President Roosevelt on September 27, 1941 to discuss the issue of Negroes in the military. Maycie Herrington's complete historical document on the history of the Tuskegee Airmen may be accessed at Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., Los Angeles Chapter.

Sunny Nash is the author of Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's, a family memoir about life with her grandmother, Bigmama, before and during the Civil Rights Movement.

Sunny Nash's book was chosen by the Association of American University Presses as essential for understanding U.S. race relations, listed in the Bibliographic Guide to Black Studies by the Schomburg Center in New York and recommended for Native American collections by the Miami-Dade Public Library System in Florida.

© 2011 Sunny Nash
All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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Sunny Nash – Race Relations in America

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