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As the country's first African American military pilots, the Tuskegee Airmen fought in World War II on two fronts: against the Axis powers in the skies over Europe and against Jim Crow racism and segregation at home. Although the pilots flew more than 15,000 sorties and destroyed more than 200 German aircraft, their most far-reaching achievement defies quantification: delivering a powerful blow to racial inequality and discrimination in American life. In this inspiring account of the Tuskegee Airmen, historian J. Todd Moye captures the challenges and triumphs of these brave pilots in their own words, drawing on more than 800 interviews recorded for the National Park Service's Tuskegee Airmen Oral History Project. Denied the right to fully participate in the U. S. war effort alongside whites at the beginning of World War II, African Americans--spurred on by black newspapers and civil rights organizations such as the NAACP--compelled the prestigious Army Air Corps to open its training programs to black pilots, despite the objections of its top generals. Thousands of young men came from every part of the country to Tuskegee, Alabama, in the heart of the segregated South, to enter the program, which expanded in 1943 to train multi-engine bomber pilots in addition to fighter pilots. By the end of the war, Tuskegee Airfield had become a small city populated by black mechanics, parachute packers, doctors, and nurses. Together, they helped prove that racial segregation of the fighting forces was so inefficient as to be counterproductive to the nation's defense. Freedom Flyersbrings to life the legacy of a determined, visionary cadre of African American airmen who proved their capabilities and patriotism beyond question, transformed the armed forces--formerly the nation's most racially polarized institution--and jump-started the modern struggle for racial equality.
In the middle of the Mississippi Delta lies rural, black-majority Sunflower County. J. Todd Moye examines the social histories of civil rights and white resistance movements in Sunflower, tracing the development of organizing strategies in separate racial communities over four decades. Sunflower County was home to both James Eastland, one of the most powerful reactionaries in the U.S. Senate in the twentieth century, and Fannie Lou Hamer, the freedom-fighting sharecropper who rose to national prominence as head of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Sunflower was the birthplace of the Citizens' Council, the white South's pre-eminent anti-civil rights organization, but it was also a hotbed of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) organizing and a fountainhead of freedom culture.Using extensive oral history interviews and archival research, Moye situates the struggle for democracy in Sunflower County within the context of national developments in the civil rights movement. Arguing that the civil rights movement cannot be understood as a national monolith, Moye reframes it as the accumulation of thousands of local movements, each with specific goals and strategies. By continuing the analysis into the 1980s, Let the People Decide pushes the boundaries of conventional periodization, recognizing the full extent of the civil rights movement.
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