Before 1940, African-Americans were unable to fly for the U.S. military. But, in the
midst of World War II, pressure from civil rights organizations and black press resulted
in the formation of an all-African American pursuit squadron based in Tuskegee, Alabama.
The squadron, formed in 1941, became known as the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of pilots,
navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors and other personnel
that would change the course of history and play a vital role in the desegregation
of the military, according to tuskegeeairmen.org
Two original Tuskegee Airmen, William Davis, Tuskegee Airman pilot, and Virgil Jewel,
Tuskegee Airman crew chief, will be on hand at Somerset Community College (SCC) as
part of SCCs anniversary speakers series celebrating 50 years of quality education
in southcentral Kentucky. Visit scc50.org
for more anniversary events.
The airmen will be conducting a free presentation at SCC on February 10 at 7 p.m.
in Meece Auditorium, located in Meece Hall on the SCC Somerset North Campus
at 808 Monticello Street in Somerset. The event is free and open to the public. A
reception, catered by the SCC Culinary Arts chefs and students, will be held in the
Meece Hall lobby at 6:30 p.m. You can download the event flyer here
According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, the Tuskegee airmen were not only the first
African American pilots in U.S. military service, were also the only ones in World
Most Tuskegee Airmen were not in the military before their training at Tuskegee began;
many joined the program because they did not want to serve on the ground and wanted
to be officers rather than enlisted personnel. To be considered for pilot training
at Tuskegee, potential candidates had to be college graduates and were expected to
be officers in the Army Air Forces, usually second lieutenants, as they completed
their advanced training. Because Tuskegee was the only training facility for black
pilots in the American military during World War II, potential pilots came from all
over the country, according to the information found at encyclopediaofalabama.org
. President Harry S. Truman had issued Executive Order 9981 in 1948, mandating the
racial integration of all military services. Eventually there were black Navy and
Marine Corps pilots as well as black Air Force pilots whose way was paved by the Tuskegee
Airmen of World War II.
During their service, members of the unit earned more than 150 Distinguished Flying
Crosses for their achievements. Equally as important, they overcame segregation and
prejudice to become one of the most highly respected fighter groups of World War II,
according to information from the Tuskegee Airmen National Museum. One squadron even
earned a Distinguished Unit Citation for shooting down three German jets in a single
day, according to the History Channel website at history.com.
About William H. Davis
William H. (Bill) Davis was born in Detroit Michigan in 1925. Raised in Glenview,
Kentucky, he attended school in Jefferson County and is a graduate of Central Colored
High School. At age 18, Davis went to Tuskegee, Alabama for college training detachment.
After earning the necessary college credits to enter pilot training, he began learning
to fly as part of the Class 45A.
After leaving military service, Davis returned to Kentucky to attend Louisville Municipal
College, where he graduated as an electronics technician. He is also a graduate of
The Wayne School of Aeronautics.
In 1955, Davis began working as an engineering technician with General Electric Company.
He retired in 1985 and currently resides in Belville, Texas with his wife Wilma.
About Virgil Jewel
Virgil Jewel was a Tuskegee Airman crew chief. He received a Commanders Award in 2011
from the National Association for Black Veterans, Inc. and also given a special commendation
from the Kentucky Legislature. He currently resides in Louisville, Kentucky.
About Julius Calloway III
Julius Calloway III is the son of Major Julius Warren Calloway, Jr., an original Tuskegee
airman. Calloway Jr. was a graduate of Central Colored High School and received his
wings as a Tuskegee Airman in 1944.
According to press coverage of his death in 2012, Calloway trained to take part in
the war against Japan but fighting ceased before he was deployed. After being discharged
from the U.S. Army, Calloway started a service to train pilots under the GI Bill.
Then in 1953, he volunteered to active duty during the Korean War and trained pilots
on several jet aircraft. He served overseas until retiring in 1970 as an Air Force
major. Later, he worked for the Louisville and Jefferson County Air Board.
Calloway was presented the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007 and received an honorary
doctorate degree from Tuskegee University in 2006. In 1997, he was inducted into the
Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame.