Booker T. Washington had a dream. He wanted to found a school that would teach young black people useful skills that would help them break out of the cycle of poverty that was so common, especially in the South. He chose to build his school on a worthless-looking piece of land in Tuskegee, Alabama, a town that few even knew existed. His school was called Tuskegee Institute, or simply, Tuskegee. The first thing that put Tuskegee on the map was Washington's hiring of the well-known scientist George Washington Carver. The second was when the military chose Tuskegee as the site for their newest project.
Tuskegee had an impressive military record beginning with World War I, when, in spite of extreme prejudice and segregation, many of its young men enlisted. A few years later, when the Ku Klux Klan came out in force to destroy Tuskegee, they quickly turned back when they saw rows of armed young men fresh out of the military, ready to defend their beloved school. By 1940, the Institute had become known for its excellent flight training program and facilities, which is why it was chosen for a military project known as "The Tuskegee Experiment,” for the purpose of training black pilots to fly in combat.
With many skilled and experienced instructors, the pilots excelled. When they took to the skies as members of the all-black 332nd fighter group, also known as the Tuskegee Airmen, their job was to guard American bombers from the German Luftwaffe. With Gen. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. (first black Air Force General) as their commander, they were so successful that, in the 700+ missions they flew, only 25 of the American planes they were protecting were shot down. No other squadron in the military ever equaled this record. Out of 450 pilots, only 66 were killed in combat, in spite of the fact that they flew up to 100 missions apiece. Flying 15,533 flights, they destroyed 251 enemy aircraft, and won over 850 medals.
When the Tuskegee Airmen were finished, they had destroyed the myth that blacks were inferior to whites, paved the way for the integration of the military, and boosted one unknown little Alabama town into history.