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Eleanor Roosevelt at Tuskegee, 1941

Eleanor Roosevelt at Tuskegee, 1941

Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum

Eleanor Roosevelt at Tuskegee, 1941

The historic flight of the Wright brothers in 1903 sparked a universal enthusiasm for flying. But as in most areas of life, formidable obstacles and discrimination faced African Americans who had dreams of flying.

In March 1941, the 99th Pursuit (later Fighter) Squadron—an all-African American unit—was activated by the U.S. Army Air Corps. This marked the long-awaited entry of African Americans into military aviation. The newly established Tuskegee Army Air Field at Tuskegee, Ala., became the focal point for training of African American military pilots during World War II.

In this 1941 photo, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt flew with pilot C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson, primary flight instructor at the Tuskegee Institute, during a visit to the flying school. Roosevelt’s willingness to fly with an African American pilot had great symbolic value and brought visibility and support to Tuskegee’s pilot-training program.

This photo is one of 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in the Smithsonian’s collection. It is on display at the National Air and Space Museum.

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