'Red Tails': Who are the Tuskegee Airmen?

red-tails.jpgOne of this weekend's biggest films is "Red Tails," the George Lucas-produced story of World War II's Tuskegee Airmen. But who, exactly, are they?

Well, before 1940, African-Americans weren't allowed to fly in the U.S. military (serve, sure, but not fly). In 1941, due to civil rights organizations pressuring the government, an all-black squadron was formed in Tuskegee, Ala., according to the nonprofit organization Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.

Tuskegee was an important site for African-Americans -- it's where Booker T. Washington helped found the Tuskegee Institute, a hotbed for African-American education, and later where George Washington Carver completed much of his groundbreaking agricultural research (for more information, check out the National Park Service's site). Because of the Institute's great reputation, the government selected the school as the place where it would train its African-American pilots.

If you read the Park Service's description of what came next, you'll understand why Lucas chose to tell the inspiring story in his latest film.

"The Tuskegee Airmen overcame segregation and prejudice to become one of the most highly respected fighter groups of World War II," says the NPS. "They proved conclusively that African Americans could fly and maintain sophisticated combat aircraft. The Tuskegee Airmen's achievements, together with the men and women who supported them, paved the way for full integration of the U.S. military."

The film stars Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., Bryan Cranston, Method Man, Ne-Yo, Tristan Wilds and Michael B. Jordan, among others.
Photo/Video credit: LucasFilm
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