THE TUSKEGEE AIRMEN, 1943 - Photography Archive - The Gordon Parks Foundation

Pilots Gambling, Selfridge Field, Michigan, 1943

Parks was the first Black correspondent to work for the Office of War Information, and one of his initial assignments was to photograph African American pioneers of another kind: the first unit of Black fighter pilots to serve in the American Army’s Air Corps, as part of the 332nd Fighter Group—known more famously as the Tuskegee Airmen. Parks began by documenting these pilots during their training at Selfridge Field, near Detroit, capturing the danger and exhilaration of young men preparing for war. His assignment called for him to accompany the group during their early missions in Europe. Parks’ wife, Sally, was expecting their third child at the time and the risks of combat photography were great, but the opportunity was too important for him to refuse. Unfortunately, when southern senators learned of Parks’ involvement with the 332nd Fighter Group, they were hostile to his assignment (as they were to the very existence of the 332nd). Parks was repeatedly told that his papers to travel to Europe were “not in order,” and in the end, he was not permitted to accompany the Tuskegee Airmen overseas. Thus his photographs do not encompass the breadth of the journey of the 332nd. Still, they reveal Parks’s heartfelt admiration for the men, their mission, and their accomplishments.