The first celebration to commemorate the contributions to our nation made by African Americans was established by American historian Carter G. Woodson, when he established Black History Week and it occurred on Feb. 12, 1926. For many years, the second week of February was reserved for celebrations to coincide with the birthdays of abolitionist/editor Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. In 1976, as part of the nation’s bicentennial, the week was expanded to a month, and since then, U.S. presidents have proclaimed February as National Black History Month.

This week, we would like to remember the valor and contributions of the Tuskegee Airmen.

During the rise of World War II, the United States government and military stayed neutral until December 1941 when, in Alabama, the Tuskegee Institute was created with the collaboration of former slave Lewis Adams and banker/former slave owner George Campbell, inviting former slave, educator, author, orator and presidential adviser, Booker T. Washington to the institute. Washington purchased 1,000 acres of an abandoned plantation to establish the nucleus of Tuskegee Institute, and what is now Tuskegee University. They received a military contract that provided flight training while the Army built a separate, segregated base, known as the Tuskegee Army Airfield for advanced training. During the summer of 1941, Captain Benjamin O. Davis Jr. began the first training session with subjects such as meteorology, navigation, and instruments. In early spring of 1942, five black cadets earned their silver wings to become the nations’ first black military pilots, and before the war’s end, the Tuskegee Institute trained over 1,000 black aviators.