Call for Military Memorabilia: The Tuskegee Airmen and Lockbourne


African Americans have served in every major military conflict in which the United States has fought. For many years, the American military–like the country at large–was segregated. Still, black men and women served their country valiantly. Among the most well-known groups of African American service members were the Tuskegee Airmen, the first group of black pilots to serve in the United States military. These members of the United States Army Air Forces served with distinction during World War II. [1] They received numerous combat awards, including 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 14 Bronze Stars and three Presidential Unit Citations. 

U.S. Air Force

In total, nearly 16,000 people served with the Tuskegee Airmen as air traffic controllers, bombardiers, flight instructors, mechanics, navigators, pilots and technicians. [2] Some came from Ohio, representing 20 counties throughout the state. [3] And, after World War II ended, Tuskegee Airmen throughout the country came to central Ohio. 

In March 1946, Tuskegee Airmen began to arrive at Lockbourne Army Airfield (known today as Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base) outside of Columbus. Unlike at other bases where they were stationed, black service members worked without the immediate supervision of whites at Lockbourne. Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., commanded the Franklin County base, becoming the first black officer to command an Army Air Force base in the continental United States. [4] The independence African Americans enjoyed at Lockbourne led Charles Dryden, a former Tuskegee Airman, to say, “[E]verywhere on the base there was evidence of striving for perfection. [Lockbourne was] ‘our’ base, run, from top to bottom and all in between, by ‘us.’” In fact, by 1948, 75 percent of all black officers in the Air Force were stationed at Lockbourne (by then, it was renamed Lockbourne Air Force Base). [5]

That same year, President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981, which desegregated America’s armed forces. [6] Though considered a critical piece of the civil rights movement, it proved bittersweet for some. For example, Lewis Lynch, a Tuskegee Airman from Columbus who served at Lockbourne, said, “When they integrated the Air Force, I found that we had to prove all over again that we could fly…The 332nd [Fighter Group, a unit stationed at Lockbourne] itself was the best-kept secret in the Air Force.” [7] One year after President Truman ordered the military to desegregate, the 332nd Fighter Group was deactivated at Lockbourne, marking the end of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Our collection contains many pieces related to Ohio’s rich history of military aviators.  Now, we need your help to preserve the story of the Tuskegee Airmen at Lockbourne Air Force base.  If you have objects or archival materials related to the Tuskegee Airmen and their time at Lockbourne, please contact our curators by e-mail at [email protected] or leave a message on the collections voicemail at 614.297.2535. 

U.S. Air Force

[1] A separate branch of the American military–the United States Air Force–was created in 1947, succeeding the U.S. Army Air Forces. 
[2] Ron Brewington, “Tuskegee Experience,” Tuskegee University (2015), http://www.tuskegee.edu/Uploads/files/About%20US/Airmen/TuskegeeExperience-TuskegeeAirmen.pdf, pp. 1, 4.
[3] This figure comes from a list of Tuskegee Airmen who served as pilots.  Fifty-seven Tuskegee pilots came from the following Ohio counties: Allen (1), Clark (1), Cuyahoga (17), Darke (1), Franklin (7), Greene (2), Hamilton (5), Harrison (1), Huron (1), Jefferson (2), Lake (1), Lorain (4), Lucas (2), Madison (1), Mahoning (2), Montgomery (5), Pickaway (1), Ross (1), Stark (1) and Summit (1). “Tuskegee Airmen Pilot Listing,” Tuskegee University (2015), http://www.tuskegee.edu/about_us/legacy_of_fame/tuskegee_airmen/tuskegee_airmen_pilot_listing.aspx.
[4] Lynn M. Homan and Thomas Reilly, Black Knights: The Story of the Tuskegee Airmen (Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, 2001); Daniel L. Haulman, “Tuskegee Airmen Chronology,” Air Force Historical Research Agency (2015), http://www.afhra.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-100413-023.pdf, pp. 6, 127. 
[5] L. Todd Moye, Freedom Flyers: The Tuskegee Airmen of World War II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 140, 158.
[6] “Executive Order 9981,” Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum (2015), http://www.trumanlibrary.org/9981.htm
[7] Appears in Moye, Freedom Flyers (2010), p. 160.

Posted February 12, 2016

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