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Tuskegee Airmen stand with an airplane and prepare to receive commissions and wings from Colonel Kimble, Commanding Officer of the Tuskegee Army Flying School, Tuskegee, Alabama, 1942. | Source: Afro Newspaper/Gado / Getty

Veterans Day highlights the amazing sacrifices of our brave men and women who have served in the Armed Forces.

However, for many Black veterans, especially ones who attended historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), their commitments to this nation are often overlooked. This country’s armed forces have benefited greatly from the contributions of HBCUs and their students while the country itself has failed to put them on equal footing with their white counterparts.

Arguably the most glaring example of this is the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, who were the first Black aviators in the U.S. Army Air Corps. The original group of Tuskegee Airmen is most known for its outstanding battle record in World War II, which helped to desegregate the military.

Tuskegee Officers

Source: Afro Newspaper/Gado / Getty

Retired United States Air Force Colonel Roosevelt J. Lewis Jr., a graduate of Tuskegee University and President of the Tuskegee Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Incorporated, served at the highest levels of the Department of Defense in five Pentagon jobs during his career. In an exclusive with NewsOne, he spoke about the importance of HBCUs in the armed forces and the legacy of the group that helped start it all.

“It truly is something that is amazing in American history because, in my view, the Tuskegee Airmen were the foundation of the modern civil rights movement,” Lewis told NewsOne during a recent conversation. “Their performance during World War II made it possible for people of this nation and around the world to see ‘negroes’ in a totally different light.”

For many Black servicemen and servicewomen, the original Tuskegee Airmen were a catalyst to helping them achieve opportunities. HBCUs and their students don’t get nearly enough credit for the impact that they have had in creating pathways for some of the brightest and most talented individuals to shine, especially in the armed forces.

“HBCUs have been that entry-level pipeline. They have given us the opportunity to showcase the performance of folks who look like us,” Lewis added. “They have given us the training, they have given us the education, the inspiration, the motivation to do the things that we have accomplished over the years.”

Portrait Of Tuskegee Cadet Clarence C Jamison

Portrait of Tuskegee Airman Clarence C. Jamison (1918 – 2014) in the cockpit of an Advanced Trainer at the Basic and Advanced Flying School for Negro Air Corps Cadets, Tuskegee, Alabama, January 12, 1942. | Source: PhotoQuest / Getty

For many, all we need is a chance and an opportunity, HBCUs and the legends they have created have helped provide those opportunities to so many people. And on this Veterans Day, we are taking the time to thank and support the many men and women from HBCUs who have worked to make a difference in our military.

Following the example to follow of legends like the Tuskegee Airmen, Their contributions will likely make a way for the next generation.

“Just as the Tuskegee Airmen were an example for us,” Lewis stated. “HBCUs and their instructors, their professors really gave us the inspiration and the opportunity to follow in their footsteps and to go further than them in the direction that we wanted to take in our lives.”


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