During a time when segregation was the way of life, the Civil Aeronautics Authority’s secondary training program was established at the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Ala., in 1940 as a way to funnel new recruits into the military in preparation for the impending World War II.
By the end of the year, the War Department had securely established the program as a stepping-stone into the Army Air Force’s basic flight course, and a few months later, in February 1941, the program was officially expanded and the Tuskegee Institute was offered a contract to train African-American pilots, making it the center for African-American aviation during World War II.
George L. Washington, director of the Tuskegee Institute Division of Aeronautics, was a key figure in bringing the primary flight training program to Tuskegee. Washington wrote in unpublished papers, which are kept in the Tuskegee University Archives, "For the Negro, it was an opportunity to further demonstrate his ability to measure arms with any other race, particularly white Americans, when given an equal opportunity. Performance in civilian aviation had certainly proven their ability to fly as individuals. And certainly this had to be the prime requisite for success in military aviation. Therefore, this was just another in the long chain of demonstrations over many years. Certainly this opportunity was far from being an experiment to the Negro.”
With the war machine ramping up, and the prospect of a draft on the horizon, African-American activists, lead by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), were lobbying for equal participation in the armed-forces effort.
Advanced instruction began at Tuskegee, turning student pilots into legitimate WWII fighter pilots and establishing a fighter group that would become legendary.