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Flying Through the Barriers of Prejudice

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THERE is a lot of talk in the newspapers these days about the military, how many soldiers are needed, and what types of defense -

ground, sea, or air - are most effective. But during World War II, such questions could be answered with one word: more!

As the war intensified, skilled troops of every type were needed. Yet one group of people, African-Americans, was being kept from combat simply because the military - and many civilians, too -

believed that black people were not intelligent enough to serve in combat or to fly airplanes. There were African-Americans in the armed services, but they were trained to maintain equipment and grounds, to be janitors, and to clean stables. Black women served in laundries, kitchens, and as cleaners.

African-Americans who joined the armed services continued to hope they would be allowed to serve their country in larger ways. One of the biggest obstacles was that many in the military believed no black man should be in charge of white men. This meant that even if a black man achieved high rank, the best he could hope for was to be an instructor or to be in charge of an all-black unit.

This policy began to break down during the buildup to World War II. For one thing, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People protested against the policy. Patriotic blacks wanted to serve - and even die for - their country. And, President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted the support of black voters. These and other forces led to the creation of what was called ``the Noble Experiment'' - an all-black flying unit that has become known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

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