The Tuskegee Airmen, An Illustrated History: 1939-1949

by Joseph Caver, Jerome Ennels and Daniel Haulman, New South Books, Montgomery, Ala., 2011, $27.95.

When I initially leafed through this picture book, a reproduction of a 1942 letter to the War Department by a graduate of the Civilian Pilot Training Program caught my eye. The writer had been directed to report to Maxwell Field, near Montgomery, Ala., to begin training in the Army Air Corps, but was denied entry because “Negroes were not trained there.” His letter ended with an impassioned plea “to correct this injustice.” A quarter of a century later, the man who wrote that letter provided my flight instruction through my first solo. How fitting that someone who struggled to unlock access to the sky went on to devote much of his life to helping others achieve the dream of flight.

The Tuskegee Airmen broke the color barrier during World War II by becoming the U.S. military’s first black pilots. Their story is powerfully told in this illustrated history, which incorporates fascinating archival images and historical documents. Beginning with coverage of prewar aviation pioneers, it concludes with the battle-tested black service members who effectively integrated the Air Force in July 1949.

Some of the approximately 270 images reproduced in the book reflect the graininess of the original photos. On the whole, however, the breadth of coverage, as well as the rarity of some of the images, make for an excellent visual record of the fliers and their ground support crews. An added bonus is a 50-page textual chronology that highlights important events in the history of these remarkable patriots.


Originally published in the November 2011 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.