Washington Red Tails ?
The year 2020 has undergone radical changes. In the wake of the tragic deaths of Aubrey and George Floyd, this nation has made unprecedented attempts to address the great American dilemma – racism. Just a year ago, it was unbelievable by all stretches of the imagination that Confederate flags and statues would be removed from many city and state displays. It would’ve been unthinkable that in bright yellow letters, “BLACK LIVES MATTER”, would be painted on the streets of several U.S. cities. Even overseas in support of what has taken place in America, statues and memorials to those involved in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and “carving of Africa” were forcibly torn down.
Several schools, colleges, and universities have now voted to rename their perspective
schools, campus buildings, and change their mascots in lieu of those deemed racially insensitive. The Washington Redskins are now back in the news regarding new pressures to change their mascot and team name. Since the team’s inception in the 1970’s, the Washington Redskins have been criticized for their choice in name and imagery. Redskin is considered by some to be a slang and racist term for Native Americans. The name red skin is also regarded by some to be the equivalence to the “n-word”, referenced to African Americans.
In response to the recent deaths of Smith and Floyd, America has opened a new chapter in correcting the wrongs of this nation’s hateful past. Sponsors and cosponsors have recently put pressure on The Washington franchise to eradicate its image and usage of the term redskin. The team owner has opted to temporarily adopt a new name, “The Washington Football Team”, while the team decides which name to officially adopt. There have been a few names that have been thrown around: Warriors, Red Wolves, and the Red Tails.
The power of a good name translates into the perfect brand. Only the heavens know how many teams wear the names; warriors and wolves. Such is the same for the lions, tigers, and bears oh my! However, the name Red Tails has a special significance and historical factor. Given the recent series of events in this country in the aftermath of the civil unrests in this country, what better name to choose than those who rose to the occasion and fought adversity on two fronts?
Red Tails, the affectionate name given to the famed Tuskegee Airmen. Based on a 1920 Army War College study in 1920 it was determined that, “As a race he has not developed leadership qualities. His mental inferiority and the inherent weaknesses of his character are factors that must be considered with great care in the preparation of any plan for his employment in war. . . . All theoretical training is beyond the grasp of the negro—it must be intensely practical, supplemented by plain talks explaining the reasons for things in simple terms. . . .” Based on this study, it was deemed that Blacks did not have the physical nor mental capacity necessary to fly aircraft.
The Tuskegee Airmen are the ultimate underdog story. Here you had a group of young men prior to World War II who were the crème de la crème of their perspective colleges and universities. Initially it was believed that they did not have the mettle to even complete the rigorous flight training program at Tuskegee Airfield in Alabama. Defying all critics, a sufficient number of cadets eventually earned their commissions as 2nd Lieutenants and aviator wings. Held in spite, the War Department didn’t know what to do with these men because they weren’t expected to complete the program. It was after a visit by then First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to Moton Field in Tuskegee that she rode in airplane by Chief Alfred Anderson. That act alone saw the Airmen sent to the European Theater based in Ramatelli, Italy.
Initially given second hand and inferior planes such as the P-40, they were expected to do the impossible, hundreds of miles away from enemy fighters. This was intentionally done so as to portray the Airmen as non-factors without any real relevance and input to the WWII effort. Antagonists in the War Department and several US Congressmen sought to end the Tuskegee Airmen experiment midway through the war due to a lack of impressive air to air kills or considerable damage to the Nazi Germany war effort. However, proponents of the Airmen’s right to fight prevailed. Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall was a major advocate of the Tuskegee Airmen who ultimately intervened on their behalf. Once they were given the Army Air Corps’ (pre-cursor to the US Air Force) best fighter plane, the P-51 Mustang and a new mission which consisted of bomber escort, the Tuskegee Airmen then began to put numbers on the board.
They were a part of the “Double V” campaign victory over Jim Crow segregation and discrimination in America and victory over Nazism and Fascism abroad. Along the way, never did they complain or cry foul. They performed to the perfected letter. The Tuskegee Airmen were credited by higher commands with the following accomplishments: 1578 combat missions, 1267 for the Twelfth Air Force; 311 for the Fifteenth Air Force. over 15,000 combat sorties, 111 German airplanes destroyed in the air, another 150 on the ground, 950 railcars, trucks, and other motor vehicles destroyed, 1 destroyer sunk by P-47 machine gun fire, 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses earned, 744 Air Medals, 8 Purple Hearts, and 14 Bronze Stars. Sixty-six pilots were killed in action or accidents and thirty-two pilots were downed and captured/POWs.
Much of the exploits and accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen went unheralded during the decades following WWII. In 1993, HBO made a motion picture with an all star cast entitled: The Tuskegee Airmen. In 2011, George Lucas presented the blockbuster motion picture, “Red Tails”. Given what this nation has experienced in terms of race dialogue, to rename the team, “ The Washington Red Tails”, would be a fine example of race reconciliation, patriotism, and es spirit de corps. The name invokes that of those committed to excellence, in the face of adversity on a host of fronts. Yet and still, they remained dedicated to the mission of victory on no uncertain terms. Yet and still, when they returned back to the Unites States, they were met with the same racial bigotry and segregated society. Without harboring animosity, they chose to democratically challenge the system of systemic racism and discrimination.
Many will chart the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement when Rosa Parks refused to relinquish her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. However, some will say that it began when the Tuskegee Airmen challenged discrimination at Selfridge Field. The name Red Tails, given the story of this famed fighting men is one that everyone can relate to. At some time in every person’s life, we’ve all felt unvalued despite our best efforts. We have all felt overlooked despite being a critical part of a much bigger element. But to come from behind and take the checkered flag despite the critics and unfavorable odds is the classic American story of victory.
It is understandable that there will be some legal hurdles to jump in terms of the usage of the name Red Tails and marketing strategies. However, these challenges are worth it. What’s in a name? A person may not be a fan of the Washington Football Team or not a fan of NFL football altogether. However, the story of the Red Tails is one that all can relate to. Despite the initial obstacles that stood in their way before and after they became Airmen, including those who were killed in action, shot down and taken POW, and to rise to the occasion and urge America to be America.
Most of the original Tuskegee Airmen and subsequent graduating classes are now deceased. Five of the originals were from Washington D.C. Last November, the former Colonel Charles McGhee, who was recently promoted to Brigadier General post service, turned 100 years old and flew once again on his birthday. This past Super Bowl he tossed the ceremonious coin. Resting on a legacy that he helped to create, that is the epitome of a winner. That is the persona of a team that we all can cheer for. If certain elements had had their ultimate say, this article may have well been written in German. Prior to WWII, many in the US didn’t want the Red Tails to fly. Around 1944, only the Nazis felt that way.