HomeNewsArticle Display

African Americans in leadership

(U.S. Air Force graphic/Sylvia Saab)

(U.S. Air Force graphic/Sylvia Saab)

FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (AFNS) -- The 1950s were a tumultuous time for the United States as the winds of changes blew across the country and the social landscape was transformed as the Civil Rights movement went into full swing.

In 1954, the Supreme Court case ruling in Brown v. Board of Education overturned laws that permitted state-sponsored segregation. Just a few years before that in 1949, progressive and innovative Air Force leaders began paving the road to equality for all service members and ordered the service to be totally racially integrated.

Since the inception of the Air Force, African Americans have strived to be, and succeeded, in being valuable team members and leaders in the world's greatest air force.

Retired Gen. Daniel "Chappie" James Jr. started his career at the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Ala., where he earned his bachelor's degree and eventually became a fighter pilot in Vietnam. He led the famed flight in Operation Bolo, which led to the highest total single mission kills of the war.

Throughout his career James continued on his leadership path and proved himself as a leader in various assignments. He served as the deputy assistant secretary of defense (public affairs), the principle deputy assistant secretary of defense (public affairs), commander-in-chief for North American Aerospace Defense Command/Aerospace Defense Command and special assistant to the Air Force chief of staff. Because of his hard work and performance James was the first African American to earn the rank of four-star general.

James retired in 1978, but his legacy didn't end there. While he was leading Airmen in the field, there was a little Airman-in-training at home waiting to follow in his father's footsteps.

Retired Lt. Gen. Daniel James III followed his father's example and commissioned in the Air Force in 1968. Just one year later, he found himself fighting in the same war his father had two years earlier. The junior James made a name for himself as a pilot with more than 4,000 flying hours and 300 combat missions in Southeast Asia.

In 2002, after serving in units in Thailand, Texas, Arizona and California, President George W. Bush nominated James to be the director of the Air National Guard. The Senate confirmed James nomination, and he became the 11th ANG director and the first African American to hold the position.

African Americans have also made significant leadership contributions on the enlisted side of the house. The contributions of one significant African American leader impacts each enlisted Airmen as soon as they enter basic training.

To date, retired Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Thomas Barnes is the only African American to hold the position of chief master sergeant of the Air Force, and was a huge proponent of professional military education for enlisted members. He believed that no one should advance in rank without PME. His work helped build the commitment the Air Force has to PME training today.

Although Barnes himself was African American, he didn't set out to create equality for African American Airmen, but for all Airmen.

Frequently, Barnes was asked what programs he would implement for African Americans.

"The answer was none," he said. "I told them I work for all blue suiters."

The accomplishments of Airmen like Gen. James, Lt. Gen. James and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Barnes are not those just to be celebrated by African-American Airmen, but by all Airmen. They have proven that in the Air Force, no matter if you're an officer or enlisted member, no matter your race or origin, the only barriers you can't overcome are the ones you choose not to.


Facebook Twitter
.@GenDaveGoldfein: "Celebration of #diversity and making sure we understand the flesh colored band aids is not abou… https://t.co/iUqNbSpCPB
.@RAFMildenhall #KC135 crew strengthened relationship with Romanian #AirForce through air refueling training. For m… https://t.co/8dGvm2HQwC
RT @SecAFOfficial: Mother nature can’t beat the 55th Wing! We will recover @Offutt_AFB from the devastating flood. Amazing American 🇺🇸 spir…
Today the #AirForce announced a new Infrastructure Investment Strategy following a yearlong review that brings a ne… https://t.co/i1yDRQkaPl
RT @Offutt_AFB: As the water has begun to recede, Team Offutt is in full recovery mode. https://t.co/6QPZ96UNZY
RT @SecAFOfficial: Thanks to Iowa leaders who just signed a bill to recognize out of state licenses for our military spouses! @SenJoniErnst
RT @SecAFOfficial: This will make a difference on our bases for decades to come...getting more out of every dollar we spend on #infrastruct
See how our aircraft maintainers keep our #F15s safe and mission ready! @142ndFW https://t.co/H6CrSoCCIg
RT @NASA: During today's spacewalk, we'll be taking questions about our @NASA_Astronauts' excursion outside of the @Space_Station. Ask ques…
RT @US_Stratcom: Global #StrategicDeterrence! Integrating #B52s from @US_EUCOM & @INDOPACOM to conduct simultaneous theater familiarization…
The #KC135 Stratotanker nose art "Black Jack" dates back to the #BloodyHundredth's battle-hardened days of… https://t.co/43zMmRWnsP
Whether our aircraft are taking off, landing or in need of assistance, air traffic controller #Airmen are active ye… https://t.co/eBlrhUI7mQ
#WeCanDoIt! The #USAF wishes a #HappyBirthday to one of the original “Rosie the Riveters,” Ms. Mae Krier, who turne… https://t.co/n24xC5NClI
RT @Offutt_AFB: A 1,000 yr flood wasn’t enough to stop our professionals from the flying mission. Projecting global combat airpower is neve…
Are you fueled for the day? #USAF #F15E Strike Eagle refuels from a 908th Expeditionary Aerial Refueling Squadron… https://t.co/SXIXjZa8pd
The #AFIT kicked off its #centennial anniversary celebration, recognizing how the men and women who study at AFIT t… https://t.co/S8x9Qn6GH3
380th Air Expeditionary Wing #logistics planners provide the magic behind movements to ensure all cargo & #Airmen a… https://t.co/cNjTcMWNcX
The #AirForce have been pioneers in uncontested space, maintaining the world's most cutting-edge lethal force for o… https://t.co/JqWLA93gqO
.@RAFMildenhall flew a #KC135 Stratotanker to Romania on Mar. 10, 2019 to conduct air refueling training with the R… https://t.co/CD0VLgBNuv