Scope and Contents
The core of the collection covers activities of American Black aviators between 1917 and 1981, from Eugene Bullard's service as a pilot in World War I through the first Black astronauts assigned to the Space Shuttle program in the early 1980s. Curators Von Hardesty and Dominick Pisano and other Museum staff collected and generally grouped materials to fit the four chronological sections of the "Black Wings" exhibit and related book, with a strong emphasis on the stories of individual people.
Headwinds (1917-1939) covers pioneer fliers such as Bullard and Bessie Coleman; Black aviation activities in the Chicago and Los Angeles areas; early aviators and organizers including William J. Powell, Willa Brown, and Cornelius Coffey; and long distance flights by James Herman Banning and Thomas C. Allen, and C. Alfred "Chief" Anderson and Dr. Albert E. Forsythe.
Flight Lines (1939-1945) includes the 1939 flight of Dale L. White and Chauncey E. Spencer to Washington, D.C.; the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPT); the start of training of Black military pilots at Tuskegee Army Air Field during World War II; and training of the all-Black 477th Bombardment Group. This section and the next include U.S. Army Air Force documents and photography, and materials obtained from individual Tuskegee Airmen.
Wings for War (1943-1945) covers the experiences of the men of the 99th Fighter Squadron and later the 322nd Fighter Group, all-Black fighter units which participated in the Allied campaigns in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy during World War II, and their commander, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.
Era of Change (1945-1981), including many materials from the U.S. armed forces and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), covers the desegregation of the armed forces; military pilots' participation in the Korean and Vietnam wars (featuring William Earl Brown, Jr.; Daniel "Chappie" James, Jr.; Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.); general aviation (John W. Green, Jr.; Neal Loving); commercial aviation (Perry H. Young, Jr.; James O. Plinton, Jr.); and the U.S. space program, including not just the first Black astronauts (Guion S. Bluford, Jr.; Ronald E. McNair; Frederick D. Gregory; Charles F. Bolden) but many other NASA professional men and women from Project Mercury through the beginning of the Space Shuttle era.
Most of the material was photocopied from other sources such as books, newspapers, periodicals, and other archival collections, but many copy photographs and anecdotes were obtained from the aviators themselves (or their families), particularly those active in the 1930s and 1940s. The collection also contains internal Museum documents, notes, and memoranda regarding the development and implementation of the various "Black Wings" productions, including portions of exhibit scripts, book manuscripts, ephemera, and Museum photography taken at the exhibit opening and the symposium. Photographic formats include prints, copy prints, 4 x 5 inch black and white copy negatives and color transparencies, and 35mm copy slides. Quality of the photography is often fair to poor, as the copies are several generations removed from the original images.
The last six boxes of the collection (currently unprocessed) consists of material collected circa 2000 by curator Cathleen S. Lewis and Ian Cook (NASM Department of Space History) for a proposed update to the "Black Wings" exhibit. After it became clear that the exhibit was not going to be updated, Lewis transferred the material to the NASM Aeronautics Department, as Hardesty and Pisano were contemplating an update to the Black Wings book. This, too, failed to materialize, and the material was transferred to the NASM Archives in May 2018 to be added to the existing Black Wings Exhibit and Book Collection. This series was received by the Museum's Archives Division after the existing collection material had been scanned; it has not been scanned.