American Portraits

The Tuskegee Airmen: Defending and Improving the United States

In this lesson, students will learn about the actions of the Tuskegee Airmen and how they helped African-Americans gain respect. They will explore how they can be respectful in their own lives.

Founding Principles

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Equal Protection

The principle of equal justice under law means that every individual is equal to every other person in regards to natural rights and treatment before the law. There are no individuals or groups who are born with the right to rule over others.

Equality image

Equality

Every individual is equal to every other person in regards to natural rights and treatment before the law.

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Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Narrative

By the late 1930s, it was becoming clear that war was coming in Europe, and the United States began making plans to recruit and train more pilots. In 1938, Congress established the Civilian Pilot Training Program to provide flight instruction to college students. At first, the plan only considered white students. However, in April of 1939, Congress amended the law to include blacks as well. One of the schools selected for the training program was the Tuskegee Institute, an all-black college in Alabama….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can the actions of the Tuskegee Airmen inspire us to be more respectful?

Virtue Defined

Respect is civility flowing from personal humility.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn about the actions of the Tuskegee Airmen and how they helped African-Americans gain respect. They will explore how they can be respectful in their own lives.

Objectives

  • Students will analyze the performance of the Tuskegee Airmen during the Second World War.
  • Students will understand how respect can help guide their identity and purpose.
  • Students will apply this knowledge to better understanding respect in their own lives.

Background

Black Americans have been involved in every military conflict in American history, beginning with the American Revolution. In most of those conflicts, however, black soldiers participated in black-only units, isolated from white soldiers. The policy of segregation was formalized in the early twentieth century. In 1925, a study by the War Department concluded that blacks were inferior soldiers to whites, being both less intelligent and more likely to panic in combat. A second study in 1937 conceded that blacks could serve in combat positions, but only in segregated units. The idea that black officers would command white troops was utterly unacceptable.

In September 1939, World War II broke out in Europe when Germany, along with the Soviet Union, invaded Poland. Germany was attempting to establish its position as the dominant power in Europe. Resisting the efforts of Germany were the Allied Powers of Great Britain, France and, later, the Soviet Union and the United States.

The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of black pilots and ground support personnel who flew combat missions against Germany and Italy during World War II. The Airmen believed they had a responsibility to both destroy the fascist regimes of Italy and Germany and to challenge the system of segregation which rested on the idea of black inferiority. They sought to be respected for their abilities, not shunned for the color of their skin.

Vocabulary

  • Segregation
  • Isolated
  • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
  • Formalized
  • Inferior
  • Fascist
  • Insisted
  • Executive Order

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

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Questions

Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • Who were the Tuskegee Airmen?
  • Why were the efforts of the Tuskegee Airmen important for the Allied war effort during the Second World War? For the status of African Americans in the military? For the social status of African Americans at home?
  • What do the actions of the Tuskegee Airmen say about their identity as a unit? As individuals?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

 

 

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