What was inside a black, working class
kid in the heat of a segregated society that made him
or her think they could fly a plane?
There were dozens of these young people
whose dreams of flying took them to Tuskegee, AL where
an experiment to prove that black people lacked the courage
to fight in combat, let alone fly, was being set up. The
determined, yet starry-eyed kids included the likes of
my stepdad, who signed up for the U.S. Air Force right
after high school. He died years before this country decided
to officially honor the elite group of patriots; my mother
accepted the Congressional Medal of Honor on his behalf
have been trying to get folks to refer to them as the
Tuskegee Air People but that doesn’t quite roll off the
tongue as nicely. The fact is that Tuskegee Airmen included
a few female pilots, like Mildred Hemmons Carter. The
Tuskegee Air family also included navigators, instructors,
nurses, parachute packers, clerical personnel and others
who made up the support system for the successful unit.
Another one of those kids was George Carper
from St. Louis.
I had gotten to know Mr. Carper from my writings about
the Tuskegee pilots. He signed up after graduating from high school in
1941 but at only seventeen years old, he was too young
to fly, so he was put in mechanics training until he was
of age. This was a big disappointment but his father’s
pointed question put him back in the game.
“You wanna fly, don’t cha,” he asked young
George, meaning this was a necessary step to getting inside
When the movie Red Tails came out,
I thought about Mr. Carper. I wanted to see what he thought
I called his home and his wife of 61 years,
Imelda, gave me the sad news. Mr. Carper had had a stroke
in December and was recovering in a rehabilitative facility.
I visited Carper. His paralysis was noticeable and his
speech slow and sometimes laborious, but his eyes flickered
with delight when he talked about that time in history.
“One of those white boys told me, ‘you
people can’t drive a truck’ implying that flying a plane
was wa-a-ay out of their reach. When Carper finished
his pilot’s training, he went back to the guy and said
“I may not be able to drive a truck but I can fly a plane!”
Tails is not the first attempt to lift the Tuskegee airpeople onto the silver screen. George
Carper has seen The Tuskegee Airmen movie starring
Laurence Fishburne several times. “It always gets me right
here,” he said as he lightly thumps his heart with his
There was a big push using social media
to get people to see Red Tails the opening weekend.
This was because of the difficulty in getting investors
for the movie. George Lucas of Star Wars fame took
on the project but not without his fair share of critics.
Courtland Milloy of the Washington Post
said the movie was a disservice to the airmen. He pointed
out that the “disheveled, undisciplined, crude and uncouth”
qualities of the men in the movie were the “exact opposite
of the real mean who served in the all-black fighter group.”
Whatever one’s view of the movie, it has
created new interest in the Tuskegee Air project. Recently,
a mural depicting the history of black aviators at the
St. Louis airport was re-dedicated. Schools are exposing students to
the special unit.
I am steadfast against the imperialist
wars and military actions of the United States. However, for those people of color
who dare to fight (and we’ve been doing so since the American
Revolution), I feel an obligation to make sure they get
their just recognition and rewards.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, Jamala Rogers, is the leader
of the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis and the Black Radical Congress
National Organizer. Additionally, she is an Alston-Bannerman
Fellow. She is the author of The Best of the
Way I See It – A Chronicle of Struggle. Click
here to contact Ms. Rogers.