Before Tuskegee there was West Virginia State University
Established in 1890 under the Morril Act, there is no question West Virginia State Colored Institute now West Virginia State University is a pillar in the Kanawha community.
Tonight, June 18, as a part of Juneteenth celebration sponsored by Tuesday Morning Group this historical university will host an event focused on The Black Presence in Educational Achievement. There is no shortage of history from a local and national point of view when looking at this unique institution.
It was September 10, 1939, when West Virginia State College became the first of six HBCU’s to be authorized by the Civil Aeronautics Authority to establish an aviation program. The response of the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper to the announcement of West Virginia State’s selection was a story that began with “What we have just witnessed is a miracle…supplemented by the far-sighted genius of men of action, backed by visions which have come true.” This explains how big this actually was.
The first pilot training class at West Virginia State College began on November 14, 1939. By January 1941, West Virginia State College had graduated several classes from their aviation program and were actively competing for authority to offer a commercial pilot’s course for the graduates of the aviation programs at the six historically black colleges.
The construction of the Army Air Field at Tuskegee Institute began on June 23, 1941. The 99th Pursuit Squadron was assigned to conduct the training. The first cadet pilot training class consisted of 13 members that included George Roberts and Mac Ross from West Virginia State College.
In a July 24, 1943 letter to President Davis, Mr. Evans states, “It is interesting to note from the press releases from Tuskegee Army Air Field, the increasing number of West Virginia State College graduates and students who are (joining the Tuskegee Airmen).”
During the course of (World War II), the Tuskegee Airmen lost 66 pilots killed in the combat zone. They destroyed or damaged 409 German aircraft, over 950 units of ground transportation, and sank a destroyer with machine gun fire alone, which was a unique accomplishment. However, their most distinctive achievement was that not one friendly bomber was lost to enemy aircraft attacks during 200 escort missions. This success was unique because no other fighter unit with nearly as many missions could make the same claim.
Consisting of many West Virginia State College graduates in command and support positions, the Tuskegee Airmen earned an outstanding record in and out of combat regardless of how it might be assessed. There are numerous examples like Tuskegee airmen that WVSU played a part in, including Carter G. Woodson, Booker T. Washington and Leon Sullivan who even has a dormitory named after him.