On March 13th, the U.S. Postal Service will commemorate a Black aviation leader. His name is Charles Alfred “Chief” Anderson Sr., and he is the first Tuskegee Airman to be featured on a U.S. postage stamp.
Chief Anderson is viewed as “the father of black aviation” for his role as the trainer of the Tuskegee Airmen. When the Chief received his pilot’s license in 1932, he was the only black flight instructor in America. It was Chief Anderson at the controls when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt took a 40-minute flight which led to the creation of the Tuskegee Airmen program.
Charles Alfred Anderson was born on February 9, 1907 in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.
He always had the desire to fly, but ran into a hurdle when no one would teach a young Black man. He was forced instead to enroll in ground training, and learned flight mechanics. Every chance he had the opportunity to observe airplanes, he did so, which included hanging out with pilots at the airports to learn more about aviation. Now all he needed was his own plane.
Anderson purchased his first plane, a Velie Monocoupe, with which he taught himself how to fly. With the money he earned to rent his plane to fellow pilots, he was able to pay for his pilot’s license in 1929. In 1932, he received his air transport license with the help of a German pilot named Ernest Buehl.
In 1934, the Chief, along with Dr. Albert Forsythe, another black pilot, made more black history when they flew their plane, a Lambert Monocoupe called The Booker T. Washington, on a Pan American Good Will Tour. The duo soared across the skies on a historic transcontinental round-trip flight from Atlantic City, New Jersey to Los Angeles, California.
After a brief stint teaching at Howard University’s Civilian Flight program, Anderson was brought on to work at Tuskegee’s new Black pilot training program. When he took Eleanor Roosevelt on an experimental flight, she was convinced to persuade her husband, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to allow black pilots to train for military flight missions. That ultimately led to the Tuskegee Airmen program of World War II.
The Chief was soon selected by the U.S. Army as the Tuskegee Ground Commander and Chief Instructor for aviation cadets of the 99th Pursuit Squadron, which was the country’s first all-black squadron. The 99th was combined with the 332nd Fighter group, also known as the Red Tails.
Anderson is enshrined at the National Aviation Hall of Fame. His granddaughter, Christina Anderson, has led the Chief Anderson Legacy Foundation for years. The new stamp will be part of the Distinguished American series. A special ceremony will be held on March 13th in the Chief’s hometown of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. For more information on C. Alfred Chief Anderson and his legacy in aviation, go to his official website.