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Saluting the Tuskegee Airmen

UC Riverside Dedicates Archive of Tuskegee Airmen

Archive preserves the papers and diaries of the first black pilots to be trained for World War II

(February 28, 2006)

Chancellor France Cordova, University Librarian Ruth Jackson and Col. Ralph Smith with the original Tuskegee Airmen honored at Friday night’s event.<br />
Photo credit, John Coleman Enlarge

Chancellor France Cordova, University Librarian Ruth Jackson and Col. Ralph Smith with the original Tuskegee Airmen honored at Friday night’s event.
Photo credit, John Coleman

The University of California, Riverside Libraries dedicated the Western Region Tuskegee Airmen Archive Friday, Feb. 24 at the Tomas Rivera Library.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first black pilots to be trained for combat during World War II. Known as "the Red Tail Angels" by other flyers, they flew 1,578 missions and 15,533 sorties, destroyed 261 enemy aircraft, won over 850 medals, and never lost a bomber to enemy aircraft. German pilots called them "Schwarze Vogelmenschen" or Black Birdmen. Recently, the U.S. Senate nominated them for the Congressional Gold Medal, the first step in an ongoing process. Selected items from the Archive will be on display during the event and a reception will precede and follow the dedication and ribbon cutting, which is open to the public.

“This is a critical time to establish the Archive in that many of the original Tuskegee Airmen and their immediate families are advanced in age," said Dr. Ruth M. Jackson, University Librarian at UCR. "To play a significant role in the national effort to document the lives of these distinguished Americans is a great privilege for us.”

The archive will serve as a central location for the Tuskegee Airmen and Airwomen to deposit photographs, posters, diaries, oral history, petitions, letters and personal papers, honors and awards, etc. to be preserved in perpetuity and to make these resources more accessible to scholars, researchers, the public schools and to families of the Airmen. The Archive will not only focus on the Airmen and Airwomen’s military history, but also on their many extraordinary contributions to society throughout their lifetime.

The special aviation program under which the Tuskegee Airmen were trained beginning in 1941, faced many obstacles and hostilities during the duration of the War, due to the unwritten government policy that determined African Americans were “unfit” for combat and not to be trained as fighter pilots. After the War, the pilots and other graduates of the Tuskegee program went on to make major contributions to the fabric of American life including the advancement of civil rights, as physicians, educators, lawyers, judges, nurses, artists and performers, etc.

They played a significant role in breaking the race barrier for African-Americans and other minorities into commercial aviation and the space program and many other fields. Among the graduates of the “Tuskegee Experiment” were such distinguished leaders and pioneers as General Celes King III, Founder and State Chair of California Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); General Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr., who became the first African-American four star General in 1975; Lee Archer, World War II flying ace who later became corporate vice president for urban affairs for General Foods Corp, chief executive officer of North Street Capital Corp. and chairman of Hudson Commercial Corp.; Percy Heath of the famed MJQ a jazz quartet of the 1960s; and Alton Burton, one of the engineers to design and build the World Trade Center.

The UCR Libraries will work with other organizations such as the Library of Congress, the National Park Services, the Maxwell Air Force Base Heritage Institute, Moton Field Museum in Alabama, and the proposed National Tuskegee Airmen Museum in Detroit, Michigan to further develop and preserve resources documenting the history of Tuskegee Airmen.

The original Tuskegee Airmen include members from the first aviation cadet class that began in July 1941 at the Tuskegee Army Air Field (TAAF) and Tuskegee Institute (Tuskegee, Alabama) and extended through the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Composite Group in 1948. Some 992 pilots graduated from the Tuskegee Airfield courses.

UCR Libraries’ will be digitizing and indexing the archives of the Airmen to make them more easily accessible to scholars, researchers, the K-12 community, and the public at large. The establishment of the Archive is fully endorsed by the national board of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. and by the Western Region Tuskegee Airmen organization. The Airmen Archive will ultimately form the cornerstone for a much large initiative at UCR to serve as an archive of African American history and culture in the Western States.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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