Charles Hall Was the First African-American Pilot to Shoot Down a Nazi Plane During World War II

1st Lieutenant Charles B. Hall, in the cockpit of his Curtiss-Wright P-40L Warhawk fighter, points to a swastika which represents the Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 190¹ that he shot down, 2 July 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Serving at a time when the American Army was segregated, the Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American aviators in America. The 332nd Fighter Group and the 99th Pursuit Squadron were the only Black groups that fought in World War II and were considered highly successful despite facing discrimination in and out of the army.

Charles Blakesly Hall would become the first of the famous Tuskegee Airmen to shoot down an enemy airplane during World War II. At a time when many thought African-Americans lacked the skill, intelligence and courage, Hall proved them wrong and would become a war hero who helped his country dominate the air space over foreign lands during the war.

Born on August 25, 1920, in Brazil, Clay County, Indiana, USA, Hall grew up during the Great Depression. He was the second child of Franklin Hall, a kiln-burner from Mississippi, and Anna Blakesly Hall, also from Mississippi. While many African-American children were at the time forced to attend inferior schools, Hall attended Brazil High School, where he excelled at various sports. After graduating in 1938, Hall went to Eastern Illinois University. There, he majored in Pre-Med and was active in sports. He worked as a waiter while attending college.

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In 1941, Hall, after three years of college, enlisted as an Aviation Cadet, Air Corps, United States Army, at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Lawrence, Indiana. He would later become part of the group of African-American airmen that would be known as the Tuskegee Airmen. They were first trained at the Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama, an all-black college which Booker T. Washington established in 1881.

Initial flight training was conducted at Moton Field, a few miles away. With the war taking shape in July 1941, Tuskegee Army Air Field was established and the training changed to create fighter pilots. The first fighter pilots graduated on March 7, 1942, forming the 99th Pursuit Fighter Squadron, a part of the 332nd Fighter Group. Hall was commissioned as a second lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, on July 3, 1942.

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SOURCE: Face 2 Face Africa, Mildred Europa Taylor

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