Tuskegee Airmen Memorial, Sewickley Cemetery

Sewickley Black History Tour

Tuskegee Airmen Memorial, Sewickley Cemetery

Sewickley, Pennsylvania 15143, United States

Created By: Sweetwater Center for the Arts


Tuskegee Airmen Memorial, Sewickley Cemetery
501 Hopkins Street, Sewickley PA

The Tuskegee Airmen were an elite squadron of African Americans in the U.S. Army Air Corps, a precursor to the Air Force, who fought during WWII. They were the first Black military aviators with 992 pilots, including single-engine fighter pilots, twin-engine bomber pilots, and liaison and service pilots, as well as more than 14,000 ground personnel. Flying more than 1,800 missions in Northern Africa and Europe during WWII, they gained a reputation for excellence as their average for successful missions surpassed all other units. Also called the “Red Tails” referring to the red-tailed P-51 Mustangs they often flew, their extraordinary achievements earned them more than 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses. Dedicated in 2013, this Tuskegee Airmen Memorial is the largest of its kind in America. It honors the nearly 100 Tuskegee Airmen from Western Pennsylvania, eight of which are from Sewickley; Jim Addison, Curtis Branch, William Curtis Jr., William Gilliam, Frank Hailstock Jr., Mitchell Higginbotham, Robert Higginbotham, and William Johnston Jr.

Black History of the Time (1941-1945)
During WWII the United States Military was racially segregated, and in much of the country African Americans were subject to Jim Crow Laws. African Americans had served in every major U.S. conflict since the Revolutionary War, yet they continued to be held at lower ranks and segregated. Black soldiers endured extreme racism within the military ranks, as well as from the civilian populace. The bases where Black soldiers were trained were all located in the south, furthering the instances of harassment and assault these soldiers endured when venturing into surrounding towns. The notion of allowing African Americas to train as fighter pilots began as a response to Republican presidential nominee Wendel Willkie’s election promise to desegregate the military in 1940. That forced President Franklin D. Roosevelt to authorize limited civil rights concessions in an effort to keep the Black vote. One year later the allowance of an all-Black aviation unit was announced, and the first group of men underwent the extreme vetting process to join the unit. Racist beliefs that Black soldiers were inferior to whites prompted the military to adopt very strict requirements and testing for the Tuskegee program. Because of these restrictions, which were far narrower than those imposed on white soldiers, the Tuskegee Airmen became the elite unit they are praised for today. Their accomplishments helped change the views of multiple high-ranking officials and encouraged the eventual desegregation of the military in 1948. The Tuskegee Airmen also included non-Black people of color from Haiti, Trinidad, and the Dominican Republic.


This point of interest is part of the tour: Sewickley Black History Tour


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