The first Tuskegee Airman dies at 96

FILE – In this Aug. 1, 2007 file photo, Milton Crenchaw, who was a member of the first all-black unit in the Army Air Corps during World War II known as the Tuskegee Airmen, prepares to speak in a lecture series at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in Little Rock, Ark. Chrenchaw died Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, in Georgia. He was 96. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston, File)

If it wasn’t for Milton Pitts Crenchaw, the Tuskegee Airmen might never have proven that African Americans can fly airplanes.

When the military started the all-black unit, which Crenchaw onnce said was designed to fail to prove the doubters right, someone had to teach them to fly.

That was Crenchaw’s job, because he was one of the first African American pilots in the United States. He started the flight-training program in Alabama.

He died last night at 96. He was the last living squadron commander and flight instructor of the the first class of African Americans to be taught to fly, according to his historian.

After the war ended, he taught white pilots, too. He integrated Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

“I had a fellow from Minnesota,” he recalled in an interview a few years ago. “Black. And he came up to my house, and told me that he didn’t particularly like having a black instructor and he was going to see the commander about getting him a white instructor because he wanted to get through. I told the guy, ‘look, fella, I’m the best God ever made. When they get on me it’s like the New York Yankees, putting on that striped suit. I don’t lose nobody.’ And he said, ‘yeah, but you still came from the South and I don’t want you.’ It hurt my feelings but in this particular area you can get them easily hurt.”

“He is proud that he was chosen to implement that program, the flying program at Moton Field located in Tuskegee,” his daughter said last week. “And he’s proud that he’s a role model. Other black young men can follow in his footsteps.”