Rosenwald Fund helped launch Tuskegee Flight-Training Program

The stylish new action blockbuster Red Tails follows the story of the famed African American pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen. The Rosenwald Fund has an interesting role in the back-story of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Moton Field, the basic training site for newly formed unit of Tuskegee pilots, was funded initially in 1941 through a loan of $175,000 from the Rosenwald Fund. According to J. Todd Moye’s new book about the Tuskegee Airmen entitled Freedom Flyers, the board of the Rosenwald Fund met in the spring of 1941 at the Tuskegee Institute with its new trustee, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Roosevelt was a flight enthusiast and a well-known supporter of civil rights for African Americans and she was eager to help secure the funding for the nascent flight-training program at Tuskegee. In a publicity stunt, Roosevelt took a half hour flight in the rear seat of a biplane piloted by head Tuskegee instructor C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson.

An image of Roosevelt in the cockpit of Anderson’s Waco biplane circulated around the country in newspapers and visually affirmed the skill and potential for African American pilots. Soon after, the Rosenwald Fund’s trustees voted to appropriate the necessary money in the form of a loan to purchase 650 acres of land and construct an airfield and hanger to be used for primary training of new pilots. The new facility was operational and accepted its first cadets in July of 1941.

Eleanor Roosevelt with Chief AndersonEleanor Roosevelt with Chief Flight Instructor at Tuskegee, C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson
Photo Credit: United States Air Force, April 19th, 1941

Moton Field, located just outside Tuskegee, Alabama, is open daily to visitors and tourists. For more information, visit Red Tails is playing movie theaters around the country.

By Michael Rose