IAM’s Connection to Black History Month

Pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group were the first African-American military aviators in the U.S. armed forces, famously known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

The recently released movie Red Tails details the accomplishments and contributions made by African-American pilots commonly known as the Tuskegee Airmen. These famed airmen fought against the enemy in the air and against racism and segregation on the ground. Their patriotism and combat success led to military integration in 1948 with President Truman’s Executive Order 9981.

The Tuskegee Airmen are often referred to as the Red Tails, or Red Tail Angels, due to the distinct red tail of their aircraft. Many Red Tail missions were flown in the P-51 Mustang, an aircraft built by what is now The Boeing Company. Following the war, many Tuskegee Airmen were employed as civilians in the aircraft industry. International President R. Thomas Buffenbarger is said to have apprenticed under a former Tuskegee Airmen in IAM Local Lodge 912.

IAM members from District Lodge 751 were among the African-American Rosie the Riveters who played a large part in building planes during WWII.

Among other significant African-Americans in aeronautics was Bessie Coleman, the first black woman in the world to earn her pilot’s license. It is said she paved the way for the Tuskegee Airmen to fly. Additionally, African-American women working in the factories building the planes played a large part in the war effort. Among these black Rosie the Riveters were IAM members from District Lodge 751.

Detailed history of the Tuskegee Airmen can be found on the Tuskegee University website.