Desegregation of the Armed Forces
- The teacher will be dressed like a WWII AirForce Pilot who is leading drills for the day. Stay in character for the whole lesson to get the students involved and to make it more real. (You can even get the kids to do some jumping jacks, sit-ups, push-ups, etc. )
- The teacher will display the following picture from The Library of Congress https://www.loc.gov/resource/ppmsca.13259/
- Ask the students what they think is going on in the picture. Allow students to turn and talk to their neighbor about what is going on, then choose a few students to share their answers.
- Tell the kids that they are in basic training today, and they will need to learn some important information about an important group of African American men in WWII to help them on their challenges for the day.
- Share some important facts with the students about the Tuskegee Airmen from https://kids.kiddle.co/Tuskegee_airmen. (Say the information in a chanting sequence like “I don’t know what I’ve been told…” and get the kids to repeat what you say.)
- Then, show the following video from Brain Pop for the students to learn more information about the Tuskegee Airmen. https://www.brainpop.com/socialstudies/ushistory/tuskegeeairmen/
- After learning information about the Tuskegee Airmen, tell the students that their basic training is now complete, and it is time for them to use their skills and “BREAK the Racial Barrier” in the military. (Conduct this next part of the lesson like a “Breakout” session.) Teacher needs a box that has a lock on it. Put candy or any kind of prize in the box. Put a piece of paper in the box with the candy that says, “Thank you for using your skills to solve the challenges for the day. You successfully completed each task! Remember: Tuskegee Airmen paved the way, Integration’s here to stay!” Set the lock and remember the code to unlock it.
- Students will be in 4-5 groups (Cadet group). They will solve problems that the Tuskegee Airmen faced in their cadet groups. Tell the students to see if they can use what you have learned to answer the questions posed to you for each situation.
- Group Roles will consist of: Problem Reader, Questioner, Discussion Director, Writer and the Paper Deliverer.
- The teacher will set the timer for 25 minutes for students to answer (in complete sentences) their solution to the problem.
- After each task card (7 total), one student from each group will bring their group’s answer to the teacher for her/him to check over before moving to the next task card. (neat handwriting, minimal spelling and grammatical errors, and specific details to answer the question) The teacher will give the student the next task card to complete. The teacher will give a number to write down after answering Card 4, 5, 6, and 7. (The numbers will be the sequence of the code that unlocks the lock.) Whichever group answers all scenarios first and gets the 4 digit code will “win” the challenge for the day by putting in the code on the lock and unlocking the box.
- Task Cards:
In the 1930s, many people did not believe that African Americans possessed sufficient skills or courage to fly.
Problem: If you were an African American pilot in the 1930s, how could you prove to the general American public that you had the skills and courage to fly?
Before WWII, President Franklin Roosevelt organized the Civilian Pilot Training Program at colleges so that the U.S. would have trained pilots ready for war. In the 1930s, schools were segregated. African Americans who wanted to learn to fly could not attend these schools. The United States needed as many pilots as were willing to serve their country.
Problem: If you were President of the United States, what would you do to include African Americans in the Civilian Pilot Training Programs?
The African-American military officers stationed in the U.S. faced racism often. They were treated as "trainees," not officers, on some military bases. Against Army regulations, a military commander forbid these "trainees" from entering the white officer's club on his base. There was a separate officer's club for African Americans.
Problem: If you were a Tuskegee Airman officer stationed at this base, what would you do?
During WWII, Americans were fighting Hitler and his forces in Europe. The "V for Victory" sign was a popular WWII symbol. African American airmen were fighting two wars - Hitler in Europe, and racism at home and abroad.
Problem: If you were an African-American, how would you change the V for Victory sign to show that you were fighting two wars?
The men of the integrated 79th Fighter Group fought as a team, lived as a team, and protected each other in battle. The Tuskegee Airmen were invited to join the white officers to a dinner celebrating one year of combat together in the Mediterranean. The commander of the Mediterranean Theater of Operations forbade the African American pilots to attend.
Problem: If you were a white officer of the 79th Fighter Group, what would you do?
In the Army Air Corps, three squadrons usually formed a Fighter Group. The first Tuskegee Airmen, the 99th Squadron, had no other African American pilots with whom to form a Fighter Group. Teamwork makes the military successful.
Problem: If you were top military brass, would you have the 99th Squadron alone, or have them join an all-white Fighter Group?
After the war, many white military units were undermanned and needed qualified people. They were unable to enlist skillful black personnel because the military was segregated.
Problem: If you were U.S. President Harry Truman, what would you do?
When students are finished:
When groups start to finish, each student will draw a picture showing the military becoming integrated or write a news article explaining how the armed forces became desegregated. If time permits, students can share their drawing or news article with the class.