Tuskegee Airman broke color barriers through civil disobedience

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  • By Amaani Lyle
  • Defense Media Activity
Not only was Oliver Goodall an accomplished Tuskegee Airman, but the World War II B-25 pilot is said to have helped lead the rally cry during the Freeman Field Mutiny, a 1945 incident considered a first step toward the official desegregation of all U.S. forces worldwide in June 1949.

Goodall was among 160 officers who were arrested when they violated orders and entered the Officer's Club, an establishment that at the time was reserved for white officers. The Field Mutiny occurred as a result of a white commanding officer's orders prohibiting black officers from even talking to white officers, much less sharing a club with them.

"It was unconstitutional, and I wasn't going to take it," Goodall said. "We decided to walk into the officers club, and 162 of us were put under house arrest. When the war ended, they wanted to get rid of us, and they started with the troublemakers, which included me."

Freeman Army Airfield, an Army Air Corps base near Seymour, Ind., was home to the 477th Bombardment Group in which Goodall was a member. He and his colleagues were ordered to use a separate facility for black officers and each were required to sign a command stating they would not enter the white Officer's Club. Goodall and others boldly refused and were placed under house arrest.

Despite Army Regulation 210-10, Paragraph 19, prohibiting any public building on a military installation from being used "for the accommodation of any self-constituted special or exclusive group," the club at Selfridge was closed to black officers, which culminated in an official reprimand being issued to Col. William Boyd, the Selfridge airfield commander at that time.

By 1995, the Air Force officially vindicated the actions of the black officers, dismissed the single court-martial conviction and removed letters of reprimand from the permanent files of the black officers. In addition to civil rights historians largely considering the mutiny an important step toward full integration of the armed forces, the actions of Goodall and the other brave officers are generally thought to be successful examples of civil disobedience that would later further efforts to integrate public facilities.

Goodall died on Oct. 30, 2010 at age 88.