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Anderson and The First Lady (1941)
*Charles Anderson was born this date in 1907. He was a Black aviator.
From Bridgeport, Pennsylvania, he was the son of Janie and Iverson Anderson of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Young Anderson was enamored with airplanes and flying from the age of six. Because most flight instructors during that time would not take black students, he taught himself to fly at the age of 22 in a used plane purchased with his savings and funds borrowed from friends and relatives. He earned a private pilot's license in 1929 and a commercial pilot's license in 1932.
During the next two years, Anderson made several history-making long-distance flights accompanied by his friend Dr. Albert E. Forsythe. Together they made the first round-trip transcontinental flight by black pilots, flying from Atlantic City, New Jersey, to Los Angeles and back without the aid of landing lights, parachutes, radios, or blind-flying instruments.
Much of their navigation on the journey was done by reading a simple roadmap. The daring pair also made a long-distance flight to Canada and later staged an elaborate Pan American Goodwill Tour of the Caribbean in their plane "The Spirit of Booker T. Washington." This island-hopping excursion included the first-ever flight of a land plane from Miami to the Bahamas and ended in Trinidad.
The Anderson-Forsythe long-distance flights attracted worldwide attention and did a great deal to popularize aviation in the African American community. In 1940 Anderson was hired by the Tuskegee Institute as its Chief Flight Instructor, with the assignment to develop a pilot training program for the school. Tuskegee was one of six black colleges participating in the Civilian Pilot Training Program, a system established by the Civil Aeronautics Authority in 1939 to provide a pool of civilian pilots for wartime emergency. At that time Anderson was the only black aviator in the United States who held a commercial pilot's license.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt took a special interest in the Tuskegee flight program and visited the school on April 19th 1941. During her tour she asked Chief Anderson if blacks could really fly airplanes. He invited her to fly with him around the field to see for herself. Their 40 minute flight together did much to advance the cause of Black aviation, leading to the eventual creation of the "Tuskegee Experiment" and the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. Anderson was that program's greatest adviser.
Anderson, one of America's last aviation pioneers died on April 13, 1996 at his home after a lengthy bout with cancer. Considered the father of Black aviation, Charles Alfred "Chief” Anderson was a 56 year resident of Tuskegee Institute, Alabama at the time of his death.
National Historic Site
1212 West Montgomery Rd.
Tuskegee Institute, AL 36088