Members of the Tuskegee Airmen have donated their archives to Temple University.
The collection of photographs, letters and papers helps tell the story of the first African-American fighter pilots, who fought in World War II.
The material shows the airmen were between a rock and a hard place.
The Tuskegee Airmen are informally named after the airfield in Alabama where they trained. Formally, they were the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Both were segregated units.
In Europe, they overcame the Axis Powers; at home, institutionalized racism. As America was entering the war, a young man named Henry Moore was making his way to Canada to get away from Jim Crow laws. But he was drafted into the Army Air Corps, and sent to Italy as a member of the airmen. He was a B-25 mechanic and crew chief.
During the war, he turned down an offer to return to the United States. At the time, he never planned to go home again.
“I was thinking very seriously about it,” said Moore. “I learned Italian, and was going to go to the University of Milan, had it not been for the GI bill. I thought, I can do better in English – I’ll go to college in America.”
The trove of photographs and letters comes from the local chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen. The collection illustrates the patriotism of a group of African-Americans toward a country that still regarded them as second-class citizens during their service.
“During a time when America needed its men to go to war, these courageous men enlisted and fought against great odds, not only in the war but also segregation,” said Diane Turner, curator of the Charles L. Blockson Collection, which specializes in regional black history. “It reminds us of a period in American history when we had Jim Crow. German prisoners were treated better than these men. It speaks to character.”
Selected items from the Tuskegee Airmen archive are now on display in Paley Library on the Temple campus.