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West Virginia Archives and History Library

The West Virginia State College Aviation Program – The Tuskegee Airmen Connection in the Experiment
April 2, 2013

On April 2, 2013, Dr. Charles T. Ledbetter will present “The West Virginia State College Aviation Program – The Tuskegee Airmen Connection in the Experiment” at the Tuesday evening lecture in the Archives and History Library of the Culture Center in Charleston. The program will begin at 6:00 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

Drawing on a wide range of resources and historical documents, Ledbetter will discuss West Virginia State College’s (now University) 1938-42 Aviation Program, with a focus on the connection between that program and the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. Most historians, journalists, authors, and at least two movies credit the heroic deeds of the Tuskegee Airmen with playing a major role in ending African Americans’ long struggle for “the right to fight” for their country and the segregation of the military. However, few have publicly told the story of the struggle for “the right to teach African Americans to fly planes” under a massive 1930s federal government aviation training program.

Ledbetter will explain how West Virginia State College (WVSC) got the “first” aviation program awarded to an all-black college. He will describe why and how three administrators, each of whom played a critical role in obtaining, shaping and strengthening the aviation program that influenced the success of the Tuskegee Airmen, were key to that award. Among the topics he will explore are: (1) what it was like for Americans in general and African Americans in particular to live in the 1930s relative to the field of aviation; (2) the fascinating leaders involved with the program; (3) the strategy used in the application process; (4) the competition among the all-black colleges; (5) the challenges to the success of the program; (6) the role of women in the program; (7) the impact of Charleston’s airport on getting and losing the program; (8) the Tuskegee Airmen connection to the program; and (9) the program WVSC was the first all-black college to receive when the aviation program closed.

Born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, Charles T. Ledbetter holds an undergraduate degree from Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri; a master’s from Golden Gate University in San Francisco; and a Ph.D. from Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. Retiring as a lieutenant colonel after a 20-year career in the U.S. Army, he spent almost 30 years at West Virginia State University where he retired as Professor Emeritus in Education. Ledbetter is the author of three books and a number of published articles including his award winning two-volume book-set, Alliance Against the Odds: The Manual Training High School Story. He recently completed his fourth book, a biography, which he plans to publish by this summer. Ledbetter is currently vice chair of the Archives and History Commission for the State of West Virginia.

On April 2, the library will close at 5 p.m. and reopen at 5:45 p.m. for participants only. For planning purposes, participants are encouraged to register for the lecture, but advance registration is not required to attend. To register in advance, contact Robert Taylor, library manager, by e-mail or at (304) 558-0230, ext. 163. Participants interested in registering by e-mail should send their name, telephone number and the name and date of the session. For additional information, contact the Archives and History Library at (304) 558-0230.

West Virginia Archives and History Workshops/Lectures

West Virginia Archives and History