A new theatrical production opens tonight at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. “Fly” tells the story of the famous African American Air Force unit from Tuskegee that flew missions during World War II despite facing discrimination in the U.S. According to Jessica Goldstein’s Backstage column in the Washington Post, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, D.C. native Roscoe Brown, consulted on the project. Brown, who was also on the set of George Lucas’s Red Tails, helped the actors get the language and mannerisms of the period right.
Three Tuskegee pilots in Ramitelli, Italy, March 1945
Photo credit: Toni Frissell Collection, Library of Congress
The Tuskegee Airmen were featured on this blog last January, when Red Tails was playing in theaters. In 1941, the Rosenwald Fund appropriated a large sum of money to build a training field for in Tuskegee for the new group of African American pilots. Eleanor Roosevelt, a member of the Rosenwald Fund’s board, took a well-publicized flight with one of the pilots to help endorse their skill and potential. More details can be found in our previous blog post.
Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C.
Photo credit: Robert Goodwin (flickr)
For those who don’t know, Ford’s Theatre is where President Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth in 1865. “Fly” is part of a multi-year series of productions at the historic theater that promote tolerance and understanding called the Lincoln Legacy Project.
By Michael Rose
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 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 http://www.nps.gov/tuai/index.htm. Red Tails is playing movie theaters around the country.
By Michael Rose