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African Americans Segregated into Separate Units

Meanwhile, the War Department forced the AAF to reverse a two decade old policy of excluding African Americans. After World War I, the War Department had segregated blacks into all-black units, and since the Air Corps had no black units, they accepted no blacks at all. The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 prohibited discrimination because of "race and color" and forced the War Department to accept blacks in numerical proportion to whites. Accordingly, in 1941, the War Department forced the newly formed Army Air Forces to accept blacks for the first time.

While some blacks became pilots, like the well known Tuskegee Airmen, most of these men served in support units. All too often, it appeared to black soldiers that they had no mission except to do menial labor and that their units served no real purpose other than providing a place to segregate blacks. The AAF based personnel assignments upon the Army General Classification Test, which had been designed to measure an inductee's ability to learn and to be trained for military duties. With a score of 100 being the expected median on the AGCT, a wide gulf separated the scores of whites (107 average) and blacks (79 average). More than anything else, the scores of the AGCT reflected the social, educational and economic handicaps under which the African Americans lived in the years before World War II. Although blacks requested technical training, the AAF often refused their applications, as they did with whites having low scores. The AAF planners believed it would not be the most efficient use of manpower, and they did not consider the AAF the proper agency to correct social handicaps, especially during wartime. The institutional bias toward accepting blacks into the ranks and the professional pride exhibited by the engineers indicated that any blacks, especially unskilled men, entering the aviation engineers faced enormous difficulties, and their performance would always be held up to close scrutiny -- at best.

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Related Fact Sheets
Tuskegee Airmen
Other Resources
Separate and Unequal: Race Relations in the AAF During World War II (Provided by AFHSO)
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