Since it’s almost Mother’s Day, I thought it would be appropriate to have today’s blog feature a woman who gave birth to six children in the space of ten years (!) while supporting her husband’s (and her husband’s mother’s…) political ambitions.  The ultimate multi-tasker, Eleanor Roosevelt became the First Lady of the United States in 1933 and was a tireless crusader for civil rights as well as an advocate for women.
     It was while she was First Lady that Mrs. Roosevelt did something that surprised the nation and would have a far-reaching impact on the U.S. military establishment:  She took an airplane ride.   While visiting Tuskegee, Alabama in March, 1941 to see the work being done at the Tuskegee Institute, she also visited the Tuskegee Army Air Field which was close by.  When she expressed a wish to take a ride in an airplane piloted by a black man, TAAF flight instructor Alfred “Chief” Anderson stepped up. 
     According to the book A-Train by Tuskegee Airman Charles W. Dryden, Mrs. Roosevelt told Anderson, “I always heard Negroes couldn’t fly and I wondered if you’d mind taking me up.”   It is reported that they  flew over the hills and fields of Alabama in Anderson’s little Piper Cub for quite awhile.  When they landed, Mrs. Roosevelt said, “Well, you can fly alright” and asked that a photograph be taken of her with Chief Anderson in the airplane.
      After that experience, Mrs. Roosevelt added her voice to those who were urging her husband to send the Tuskegee-trained pilots of the 99th Fighter Squadron into combat.  The 99th finally shipped out for North Africa in April, 1943.
     Besides quietly supporting the flight training program at Tuskegee, she also corresponded with a young Tuskegee Airmen named Cecil Peterson while he was at Tuskegee.  Peterson was chosen at random to receive Mrs. Roosevelt’s letters, but he evidently did answer them.  For a sample of that formal yet friendly correspondence, click here.
    NOTE: The CAF Red Tail Project’s online store carries Charles Dryden’s book A-Train.  All proceeds from purchases at the online store benefit the Project’s educational mission.  Click here to shop.
The CAF Red Tail Project is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.

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