The first black weather officers joined a separate US Air Force in World War II
This Day In Weather History is a daily podcast by The Weather Network’s Chris Mei featuring stories about people, communities and events and how the weather has affected them.
On Monday, July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981, abolishing discrimination “on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin” in the United States Armed Forces.
The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of the United States military’s first black aviators to fight in World War II. They were educated at Tuskegee Institute near Tuskegee, Ala. These men fought in the Army’s Separate Air Force (now called the US Air Force). So with the first black Air Force pilots came the first black weather officers called Tuskegee weathermen.
“Members of the 332nd Fighter Group at a briefing, Ramitelli, Italy, 1945.” Courtesy of the Toni Frissell Collection/Library of Congress, Washington, DC (LC-USZC4-4335)
But it wasn’t easy just to recruit the leading black weather forecasters because there weren’t any at the US Weather Bureau at the time.
The Army recruited black men with scientific backgrounds and trained them in meteorology.
Charles E. Anderson, who studied chemistry at college, was enlisted in the Army Air Force. He wanted to fly, but his eyesight was too bad.
Archie Williams also wanted to be a pilot in the Army Air Force since he already knew how to fly an airplane.
Williams was in great shape, winning the gold medal in the 400-meter dash at the 1936 Olympics. But at 27, he was too old for military flight training. So Williams worked on weather forecasts, weather maps and even taught an introduction to flying.
There were 14 Tuskegee meteorologists, about 0.2 percent of all weather officers in the Army Air Force.
Black pilots were also few in number and viewed with suspicion.
The Tuskegee Airmen and Meteorologists were a great team, as evidenced by the results of their missions.
“Members of the 332nd Fighter Group prepare for a mission, Ramitelli, Italy, 1945.” Courtesy of the Toni Frissell Collection/Library of Congress, Washington, DC (LC-DIG-ppmsca-13259)
Air Force historian Dan Haulman said, “Of the 179 bomber escort missions, they lost bombers to enemy aircraft on only seven of those missions,” adding that they lost a total of 27 bombers while other groups lost an average of 46 bombers.
Haulman said, “Just as the black pilots have proven that they can fly military aircraft in combat as well as the white pilots, so the black weather personnel have proven that they can perform meteorological functions as well as the white officers.”
The Tuskegee Airmen helped change the attitudes of their white counterparts. Williams saw this change coming because in the beginning “…a lot of guys there were bigoted. The white guys didn’t want to fly with them and all, but they found out these guys could fight, were good at shooting and protect the bombers.”
Monument honoring the Tuskegee Airmen at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, Tuskegee, Alabama. Courtesy of Staff Sgt. Christine Jones/US Air Force
The Tuskegee weathermen had the same positive and progressive influence due to their success in weather forecasting.
To learn more about the Tuskegee weathermen, listen to tonight’s episode of This Day In Weather History.
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Thumbnail: Members of the 332nd Fighter Group, Ramitelli, Italy, 1945. Image courtesy US Air Force.