George Lucas' Red Tails is a "very important film," reminding us of the "often overlooked role of African Americans in World War II," Henry Louis "Skip" Gates writes in the Root. But what you sadly won't see in the movie are the three women who made the Tuskegee Airmen possible in the first place. It started with Mary McLeod Bethune, a member of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "black cabinet," who managed to get historically black universities chosen as sites for the New Deal's Civilian Pilot Training Program.
One of those campuses? The Tuskegee Institute, which Eleanor Roosevelt visited in 1941. After taking a flight with the chief instructor, she pressed her husband to integrate America's air forces, insisting publicly that anyone saying blacks couldn't fly was wrong. Of course, another remarkable woman had already proven that: Willa Beatrice Brown, the first African-American woman to become a lieutenant in the US Civil Air Patrol, whose exploits drastically improved the public's perception of black aviators. Without all three, the Tuskegee Airmen might never have existed.