Born: Dec. 7, 1922
Allisonville Meadows Assisted Living
Arthur L. Carter was standing in line waiting to go through the Army enlistment process when a stranger approached and asked him if he had thought about becoming a member of the U.S. Army Air Force.
The attack on Pearl Harbor had happened on Carter’s 19th birthday, Dec. 7, 1941 weeks earlier. The nation was at war. The stranger was a sergeant recruiting African American men for a government experiment.
“He said, ‘You look like you might make a good pilot,’ and then he took me into the Army Air Force office at the old K of C Building Downtown,” Carter said. “That’s how I became a cadet in the Black Air Force.”
Carter served three years as one of the Tuskegee Airmen, from October 1942 until the end of World War II. The Tuskegee Airmen were American’s first Black military airmen, assigned to become pilots in an effort to break the race barrier.
The overwhelming opinion of many was Blacks did not have the intelligence to be pilots. After unrelenting pressure from civil rights organizations, the Tuskegee Airmen became the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group. They were trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field at Tuskegee University, which was founded by Booker T. Washington, and at Moton Field 10 miles away.
Between 1941 and 1946 more than 1,000 Black pilots were trained at Tuskegee, Alabama. Many did not make the cut to fly. Those who did had one of the lowest loss records of all the escort fighter groups. Collectively, the Tuskegee Airmen received Presidential Unit Citations, 50 Distinguished Flying Crosses and eight Purple Hearts.
Thirty of the pilots were from Indiana and 13 of them, including Carter, were graduates of Crispus Attucks High School. Sixty-eight Tuskegee Airmen were killed during the war; 32 were captured as prisoners of war.
“It was a wonderful three years,” said Carter, 91.
Carter said he washed out twice attempting landings. The first time the plane did a ground loop, he was hospitalized for 10 days, but once he had healed, his superiors ordered him back into an aircraft. He washed out again and this time was assigned to be an aircraft engineer. He also worked in the offices because he knew how to type, he said.
After discharge, Carter was disappointed to find little in race relations had changed outside of the military. Inside, the men who became officers were not allowed to serve over white enlistees.
He returned to his wife who he had married before going to Tuskegee and to Indiana University where he majored in accounting. The couple had four children: Lennie Carter, Arthur Jr., Dr. John Dale Carter and Mary Ann Dickerson. A 5th child, a son, died in infancy, he said.
Carter worked as a tax accountant for the Internal Revenue Service and the General Accounting Office and also operated his own accounting practice and a poplar travel agency, Twilight Travel Agency.
Carter was active in several civic groups. He was an honored member and leader of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity and Boy Scouts of America, from which he received the Silver Beaver Award for his 27 years of service to scouting.
Former Gov. Evan Bayh made him a Sagamore of the Wabash, a tribute made by Indiana governors to individuals for service to the state and nation. Former Gov. Mitch Daniels gave him the Governor’s Award for Military Service. He also received the Congressional Gold Medal. Kappa Alpha Psi honored him with the Laurel Wreath Award.
Three years after Carter was discharged from the Army Air Force, which became the U.S. Air Force, President Harry Truman enacted Executive Order No. 9981. This order directed equality of treatment and opportunity in all of the United States Armed Forces, which in time led to the end of racial segregation in the U.S. military forces.
In 1998, Congress authorized $29 million for the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site at Tuskegee University. To date, less than $4 million of that amount has actually been appropriated.