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"The white boys went in at 18; we couldn't come in unless you had a college degree." (9:29)

   Quentin Smith
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War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: Army Air Forces/Corps
Unit: 477th Composite Group
Service Location: Tuskegee, Alabama; Seymour, Indiana
Rank: First Lieutenant
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For Quentin Smith, World War II was a series of delayed actions. He enlisted hoping to become a flight instructor and he did land in the newly formed company of black airman in Tuskegee, Alabama. But the wheels of bureaucracy moved slowly, with officials insisting that ready-to-fly pilots had to wait until other members of the crew were trained, claiming that no white navigator or gunner would take orders from a black pilot. It took a visit from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to get the Army Air Force to ship the Tuskegee Airmen to Europe, where they compiled an enviable record.

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President Roosevelt created separate service units for blacks. (01:47) Smith's friend, Willa Brown, had received money to operate a private black flying school. (00:49) It took flying instructor Willa Brown's predictions of aerial doom to turn Smith into a pilot. (00:52)
After a time at the airfield in Biloxi, Smith finally arrived in Tuskegee, Alabama, only to be told that they didn't need more primary black instructors. (01:15) Standards to become a pilot were much higher for blacks than whites, and there was a significant drop out rate. (01:27) As the war progressed, the strict entrance standards for black pilots were decreased. (00:38)
Tuskegee Airmen went largely unutilized in the war effort until Mrs. Roosevelt came to visit and flew with a black pilot. (00:51) Black pilots did not fly combat missions in the European Theater until Anzio, where they recorded 16 kills. (01:20) Even many years after the war, other airmen remembered the welcome sight of the red tails of a Tuskegee Airmen plane. (01:49)
Black bombardier pilots couldn't fly until they had an all black crew; senior commanders wouldn't put black pilots in charge of white assistants. (00:12) After being transferred to Seymour, Indiana, Smith and over one hundred other black officers were arrested for trying to enter the Officers' Club; incident resulted in Thurgood Marshall appealing to President Truman for their release. (04:44) 
  
 
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  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
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