Meeting American Heroes: The Tuskegee Airmen – John Priddy

OUT ON THE HILL is the official blog of the Victory Congressional Interns. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of LGBTQ Victory Institute. Learn more about the internship at victoryinstitute.org/vci

Many Americans, across the political spectrum, are unaware of several significant people and groups who changed the Civil Rights landscape in our country. The average citizen is aware of the more salient names, such as: Martin Luther King Junior, Rosa Parks, and Thurgood Marshall. However, names such as Bayard Rustin, Charles Hamilton Houston, and Claudette Colvin remain unknown despite their remarkable contributions to American History and the Civil Rights Movement. These names remain unfamiliar because Black History has often been distinguished from American History, where instead, Black History IS American History. Slavery, the Jim Crow South, and the Civil Rights Movement are not just necessary for Black people to learn and understand, they are arguably more important for all Americans to learn.

As an intern in Senator Doug Jones’s office, I am consistently reminded of the significance of the Civil Rights Movement into the present day. Civil Rights advocacy is deeply important to Senator Jones, as he was the United States Attorney who prosecuted two Ku Klux Klan members who were directly involved in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The explosion resulted in the deaths of four young, African American girls. Additionally, the bombing stood as a cold case until Senator Jones found and prosecuted those responsible in 1997. With this background, it is truly an honor to work in Senator Jones’s office, as I meet a variety of unique and diverse people. People all across the country are excited to meet the new Democratic Senator from the State of Alabama. One group, who were invited to the Capitol by Senator Jones, greatly stood out due to the impression they left on me. It was a group of distinguished Civil Rights heroes, called the Tuskegee Airmen, who I had the once in a lifetime opportunity of meeting due to my internship in Senator Doug Jones’s Office.

The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of African American fighter pilots who fought in World War II before the desegregation of the military by President Truman in 1948. The all black group received their name from the training and education they underwent at Tuskegee University in Alabama.  Although the Tuskegee Airmen, also known as the red tails, contributed heavily to the United States war effort overseas, they were still subject to discrimination, racism, and segregation. In fact, the airmen were known as some of the best pilots in the U.S armed forces, yet when they returned home from war, they were not treated as heroes due to the color of their skin. As a result, they fought and died for a country where they remained segregated and disenfranchised from the rest of the population. Despite the fact that I was not educated in Alabama, I knew of the Tuskegee Airmen due to the extensive research I had done on the history of Civil Rights. As a Black man, I felt it was my responsibility to learn about these important individuals who had a profound impact on my life. Thus, having the opportunity to meet and engage with the Tuskegee Airmen and thank them for their service was an experience I will cherish. However, many people do not know the history of the Tuskegee Airmen. Whether this is from ignorance, a lack of education, or a lack of interest, it represents a major flaw in the American education system; the separation of Black History from American History.

Students across the country, not just black students or students interested in Civil Rights, should learn the brave story of the Tuskegee Airmen. Their story represents the suffering many Black Americans faced and continue to face, whether they are rich or poor, well-educated or not, or even veterans. Many important civil rights figures have sadly passed away over time, but many still live on and remind us of our country’s difficulty engaging with race in both the past and present. However, people such as Senator Jones and his continued fight for Civil Rights remind me that while America has a long way to go to reach equity and equality, we have some fantastic people leading the way. I thank the Victory Institute and Fund and Senator Doug Jones for a life changing summer.