February is Black History Month. In honor of that I thought we could take a moment to discuss the famous group of African American Airmen who are being immortalized on film at a theater near you: The Tuskegee Airmen. Theirs is a bittersweet history. Bitter in that the tale contains horrifiying accounts of the bigotry that infested national policies during this time of American history. Sweet because it is a testament of courage, strength and triumph.
During WWI, African American men had applied for positions as aerial observers and been rejected strictly on the basis of race. After the end of the war, two decades of intense advocacy began, spearheaded by African American men who wished to train to become pilots. Prestigious men such as Walter White, A. Philip Randolph and Judge William H. Hastie involved themselves in the cause. In 1939 their efforts proved successful and Congress passed Appropriations Bill Public Law 18. The bill contained a clause allocating some funds for the training of African American Pilots. Due to the segregation rules which regulated army life, the money was used to pay civilian flight schools willing to accept these students. The army then did a mighty dance in order to accommodate these new pilots within its own bigoted and segregated ranks.
Despite the hurdles they were forced to endure, the Red Tails, named for the distinctive red color on the tail of their planes, proved to be exemplary soldiers. The squadrons they defended called them “The Red Tail Angels” for the devoted, fierce protection they provided to the bombers and their crews. With all that America had done to keep them from fighting for their country, the proved to be some of our most able defenders. I was humbled reading their story, realizing how close in our history officially sanctioned bigotry really is.
Given all that it would be easy for Red Tails the movie to be a complete downer. George Lucas, however, said he wanted to tell a story of heroes, not victims. He does just that, introducing us to the men of the Red Tails squadron and the wonders of their amazing deeds. The film is a story of sacrifice and success combining the agony of war and the thrill of victory. It shows the ugly side of racism and the triumph of acceptance and friendship. There is a lovely, old fashioned love story at the heart of it. My family was riveted for the whole two hours we were in the theater.
Have you had a chance to see Red Tails yet? Do you plan to? And do you have a favorite war film?
- Maggie AAR