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Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site

Joshua Shiver, Auburn University
The Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, located at Moton Field in Tuskegee, Macon County, commemorates the predominately African American "Tuskegee Airmen" who trained there during World War II. Established in 1998, the site highlights the role that the Tuskegee Airmen played in breaking down racial barriers in the United States military as well as their contributions to the Allied victory. It is one of several National Historic Sites in the area related to Tuskegee and Tuskegee University and lies adjacent to Tuskegee National Forest.
Moton Field was constructed in Tuskegee in 1941 as the site for the "Tuskegee Experiment": the U.S. Army Air Corps program to train African American pilots and crewmen during World War II. Built by the students and faculty of the nearby Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), which had long emphasized vocational education, the site was named in honor of its deceased former president, Robert Russa Moton. The location was chosen because Tuskegee Institute already had a civilian pilot training program, pledged to invest in the development of an airfield, and had engineering and technical advisors and because the region's temperate climate provided ideal flying conditions year round.
In the years leading up to World War II, African Americans were barred from flying for the U.S. military. But increasing pressure on the federal government from civil rights groups and the African American press led to the approval of the Tuskegee Airmen program in 1941. This program, the first of its kind, trained African American pilots, navigators, bombardiers, and maintenance and support staff, as well as instructors. The program produced 996 African-American aviators over the course of the war who flew for a combined 15,000 sorties (individual flights) and 1,500 missions in addition to training 16,000 crewmen. Most graduates of the Tuskegee program served in the all-black 322nd Fighter Group, earning multiple unit citations. Though the Tuskegee Airmen continued to serve in a variety of capacities in the military after World War II, Moton Field was officially closed in 1946. In 1948, Pres. Harry S. Truman desegregated the U.S. military, and the Tuskegee Airmen were spread across various previous all-white units. In 1972, most of Moton Field was deeded to the city of Tuskegee for use as a municipal airport.
On November 6, 1998, Pres. Bill Clinton signed Public Law 105-355 to establish the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site at Moton Field. (The legislation had been sponsored in Congress by then Rep. Bob Riley, who represented Alabama's Third Congressional District in which Tuskegee is located.) The site was concurrently placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The new site was projected to contain a museum, interpretive programs, and a national center based on public-private partnership. At the time of the site's grand opening on October 10, 2008, only Hanger One of the two remaining hangars had been restored; the restoration of Hangar Two would be completed some years later.
Hanger One was originally constructed in 1941 and includes the visitor's center as well as exhibits focusing on the training that the Tuskegee Airmen received at Moton Field. It houses a Stearman bi-plane and a J-3 Piper Cub, which were the planes primarily used for training pilots in World War II. Hanger Two was built in 1944 and now hosts exhibits on the Tuskegee Airmen's overseas combat experience as well as the history of the Double-V (Victory at Home and Victory at War) civil rights campaign of African American soldiers during World War II. It also includes a replica P-51 Mustang fighter plane painted with the red tail and nose that the airmen are so closely associated with and a movie theater that hosts a 30-minute film on the history and accomplishments of the airmen.
Outside, a walking trail with several interpretive signs as well as a scenic overlook take visitors around the historic site. In addition to the hangars, there are six other original structures at Moton Field, including the Skyway (Officer's) Club, a storage shed, a warehouse and vehicle storage building, a bath and locker house, a tea room, and a small lunchroom. Two steel skeletal outlines mark the former sites of the cadet house and the Army supply building. Moton Field Municipal Airport is adjacent to the historic site, providing a 5,000-foot runway that accommodates small aircraft and private jets.
According to the National Park Service, more than 30,000 individuals visited the site in 2014. To support the preservation of the memory of the Tuskegee Airmen at Moton Field, the Friends of the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, Inc. was formed in 2009 and works alongside the National Park Service in raising funds and public awareness, providing community outreach activities, and organizing volunteers for special projects. Every year, the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site hosts the Tuskegee Airmen Fly-In, which is usually held in May and includes displays of historic aircraft, military fly-bys, aerobatics, exhibits, vendors, and food.
As of February 2016, the Google Arts & Culture Program, in partnership with the U.S. Department of the Interior, has committed to making thousands of National Park Service artifacts available online, including many from National Parks sites in Alabama, including the Tuskegee National Airmen Historic Site. In 2021, the U.S, Mint plans to strike the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site Quarter as the last strike of its "America the Beautiful" Quarters Program.
Published:  September 20, 2016   |   Last updated:  September 20, 2016