On a visit to the Tuskegee flying school, circa
1940, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt flew with pilot C. Alfred Chief
Anderson. Roosevelt’s willingness to fly with a black pilot had great
symbolic value and brought visibility and support to Tuskegee’s pilot
||Biographical Passage about C. Alfred "Chief"
She told me, I always heard Negroes couldnt fly
and I wondered if youd mind taking me up. All her escorts
got tremendously upset and told her she shouldnt do it
When we came back, she said, Well, you can fly all right.
Im positive that when she went home, she said, Franklin,
I flew with those boys down there, and youre going to have to
do something about it.
C. Alfred Anderson,
A-Train: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman
C. Alfred Chief Anderson spent at least six decades training
and mentoring countless African American aviators. Interested in flying
from a young age, he saved enough money by the time he was 20 to take
flying lessons, but he could not find a school that would accept a
black student. With his savings and some borrowed money, he bought
his own plane and begged for lessons from any pilot who would listen.
He finally found an instructor in Ernest Buehl, a German World War
I pilot who had emigrated to the United States. Anderson earned his
Private Pilot Certificate in 1929, and in 1932 he became the first
black to receive his Transport License. He became friends with Dr.
Albert E. Forsythe and taught Forsythe to fly. Together, in 1934,
they were the first black pilots to make a round-trip transcontinental
In 1939 Anderson initiated the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPT)
at Howard University. Soon he was hired to be the first African American
pilot instructor at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, which had the largest
CPT program for blacks.
He was an inspiring instructor. Although many thought it couldnt
be done, Chief created expert pilots at Tuskegee. As the
chief civilian flight instructor at Tuskegee, Anderson was known and
loved by the thousands of pilots he trained during his 53 years as
The most famous photograph of Chief Anderson shows him
smiling from the cockpit of his plane, as a beaming Eleanor Roosevelt
sits behind him. The photograph was taken in 1941 during Mrs. Roosevelts
fact-finding trip to Tuskegee. As First Lady, Mrs. Roosevelt did much
to promote the cause of equal opportunity for black Americans. Over
the Secret Services objections, she flew with Anderson to show
her support for the Tuskegee program. According to Anderson, the Army
Air Corps began training blacks several days after Mrs. Roosevelts