African Americans In World War Ii: The Tuskegee Airmen And The Red Ball Express

Pearle Mack Jr. lived in Topeka Kansas in a potato farm community. In 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese forces in Hawaii. Like many Americans, he wanted to do his part to help the country. First encountering racism was when he joined the United States Army. His segregated unit of World War II had no black officers to lead them. He was a black soldier who joined the military and wanted to prove he was as capable as a white soldier.

African Americans played an essential role during World War II. African Americans were a major part of World War II. Tuskegee Airmen fought racial bias and surpassed limited opportunities in order to become a highly regarded combat unit during World War II. Red Ball Express, a unit of the Allied Forces that played a significant role in the defeating Nazis, proved to be fit for war and deserving service. After returning from war, the injustices suffered by African Americans led them to become activists in the Civil Rights Movement. The exceptional efforts of African American World War II soldiers paved the road for racial equality in the United States. American historians were not unaware of the efforts these soldiers made to prove their worth.

Colonel Eldridge, Williams said that the false diagnosis by a white physician of an eye disorder prevented him from fulfilling his dream to be a pilot. Despite this, he was able to become a navigator. He said that ‘I believe the story that is not told are stories like mine where the home war that was waged…

Colonel Herbert Carter claimed that he became an airman because he wanted to avoid being “cannonfodder”, if he was drafted in World War II. He also said it “was better than just being a regular private”. He said it was important to note that airmen shattered the myth that blacks were not able to fly planes for war. Benjamin Payton, former president of Tuskegee College, said that the airmen were akin to the struggle black Americans have had in order to fully integrate into American society.

He said, ‘They maintained their faith and hope in America despite how it treated them.’

Charles Dryden said, “We didn’t dare fail because we would be told that you couldn’t succeed.”

Senator Jeff Sessions noted that unlike most of the airmen they knew, these men also had to fight prejudice in their own country.

When World War II hit, civil right groups and the black media forced the United States Army Air Corps-a precursor to today’s Air Force-to admit black aviators. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sued the Pentagon and convinced Franklin D. Roosevelt of the importance of the program. The Tuskegee Experiment was the name given to the first class of aviation cadets. It began in July 1942 with 13 students. The Tuskegee Army Air Field, located in Tuskegee in Alabama, approximately 40 miles east from Montgomery, hosted this group. Tuskegee University provided an aviation course and had a privately owned airfield. It was the perfect place to train because they also had a private runway. Blacks weren’t allowed to fly for the military during that time. The ‘experiment,’ however, was meant to see if they could handle heavy equipment and pilot planes. In four years the airmen flew more than 15,000 combat sorties in Europe and North Africa to protect American bombers. Tuskegee army air field closed in 1946. Nearly 1,000 black pilots were trained there before then. Airmen are sometimes called the Red Tails, because their planes’ tails were painted red. Carter said that the airmen were to be commended for their ability to overcome an environment where they were told ‘they did not have the dexterity and physiology or psychology necessary to operate such complex machines as tanks or aircrafts’. Carter said that the black airmen responded with ‘train and I will prove to you that I can’.

Carter stated that the best antidote against racism is excellence and performance.

Red Ball Express is a term used on railroads to describe “priority freight” (Wright 2005, 8). On railroads, the term Red Ball means “priority goods” (Wright (2005). After Allied logisticians lacked the foresight to plan, a provisional trucks brigade maintained a long distance supply system. The Communications Zone Motor Transport Service headed by Colonel LorenAyers was in charge for the Red Ball Express. Under Colonel Clarence Richmond’s leadership, the Advance Section of Communications Zone Motor Transport Brigade was responsible for operating and scrounging trucks. The route was from Saint Lo forward supply depots to La Coupe-Chartres staging area, just outside Paris. Because the roads could not handle heavy traffic in both directions, the suppliers created a one-way road loop that was only open to Red Ball traffic. The northern half and shorter loop road was used by the vehicles with loads, and the other half was used for empty vehicles. Motor Transport Brigade reduced the Red Ball Express’s trucks to their most vital ones. On August 25, 1943, 3,358 trucks were organized into 67 groups. Red Ball drivers were able to deliver 4,482 tonnes on August 25, 1944, prompting the Motor Transport Brigade unit to increase the number trucks it gives to the Red Ball unit. Four days later the Express reached its peak, with 132 firms, almost 6,000 trucks and 12,342 tons. The drivers traded vehicles in order to maintain the mission’s continuous operation.

The mission was urgent and this urgency spread to all positions. Media coverage was extensive for the Red Ball Express. Red Ball units, who were given a high level of attention by the media, were portrayed as highly skilled drivers, who drove tirelessly to deliver their cargo. The drivers wanted to live to this image. To ensure that drivers stayed in command, they were given a list with regulations. Almost all drivers ignored these regulations. Red Ball Express drivers were rushing to reach their destination, skipping meals, breaks and sleep. The leadership accepted these actions diplomatically (Barnett 1993). The mission was vital and required all effort. Red Ball Express shipped 89.900 tonnes of supplies between September 5 and 6. After Generals George Patton & Courtney Hodges diverted their forces, starting in Paris, the unit followed them. After 81 days, the Red Ball Express demobilized in November 1944. It had delivered 412 913 tons of supplies. The eager troops delivered 5,098 ton of supplies per day, helping the Allies defeat Axis. Red Ball Express argued for the benefits of modern logistics and techniques by bolstering offensive troops that would otherwise leave behind their supply lines. The unit saved the day for those who desperately needed support after destroying railroads across France that could have helped the Allies move through France.

The presence in the United States of black troops caused white mob violence against African Americans. After World War II blacks moved in to urban areas as whites migrated out into the suburbs. Levit towns on Long Island in New York and Bucks County in Pennsylvania restricted the occupancy of whites. Carter talks of his constant struggle to be regarded as an army soldier while on base. However, this was taken away from him once he went off-base. He became a ‘just like any other Negro in Alabama’. Larrie is a veteran soldier who captured an American flag on Moratai by taking a Japanese officer who had surrendered. He was disappointed to not be honored with a parade at his home in Chesterfield, South Carolina (Horan 1994).

I don’t think we were treated fairly. He said that nobody knew of the exploits the 93rd.

Raymond Rorie, retired principal of a school, said that segregation was one of our problems. We protected our country even though we were denied freedom (Horan 1994).

Former school principal Gerson Stroud said, ‘It’s very upsetting realizing that you’ve given valuable time to a country where segregation is still prevalent.’

African Americans relied on the usual tactics of negotiation and patience with whites. The National Association of the Advancement of Colored People also triggered court cases. African Americans began direct action protests because of whites’ stubbornness in retaining segregation. The protesters hoped nonviolent Christian protests could change whites’ minds on segregation. Harry Truman’s order to desegregate armed forces in 1948 came after black aviators played a key role in the victory of the war. The mixed racial military was the result. Brown v. Board of Education’s decision that school segregation was unconstitutional paved the way for the Civil Rights Movement for African Americans. After blacks refused rides on Alabama buses, the Supreme Court declared segregation unconstitutional. This cut into profits for the state’s bus industry. The Supreme Court desegregated Mississippi University in 1962. Lyndon B. Johnson never gave up trying to achieve political and economic progress for African Americans. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were passed. The Civil Rights Act, which cut federal funding to schools and workplaces discriminating against people of color, revolutionized the laws. The Voting rights Act was implemented to register voters directly in the South. The Civil Rights Movement provided African Americans with opportunities to serve in military service.

Some historians have questioned the Tuskegees’ claim to never lose a bomber. Red Ball Express’s workers are criticized sometimes for working too hard, which leads to more accidents. The Civil Rights Movement was not directly related to black service, as some may argue. African Americans in America should always cherish the service rendered by the first African officers.


  • jacobcunningham

    Jacob Cunningham is a 26-year-old education blogger and teacher who resides in the Pacific Northwest. Jacob's teaching and writing focus on the use of technology in the classroom, and he is a frequent presenter at education conferences around the country. Jacob's work has been featured on sites such as The Huffington Post, Edutopia, and TechCrunch.



Jacob Cunningham is a 26-year-old education blogger and teacher who resides in the Pacific Northwest. Jacob's teaching and writing focus on the use of technology in the classroom, and he is a frequent presenter at education conferences around the country. Jacob's work has been featured on sites such as The Huffington Post, Edutopia, and TechCrunch.