Brigadier General (Ret.) Leon A. Johnson, National President of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., was the guest speaker at the 2017 Black History Month Conversation held at UNT Dallas College of Law in downtown Dallas on February 17, 2017. The event was hosted by the Student Bar Association, the Black Law Students Association, and the Veteran Law Students Association. General Johnson's presentation focused on the actual history of the Tuskegee Airmen and how the history has been portrayed in popular cultural, including the George Lucas film, "Red Tails."
George Lucas spent 23 years as executive producer on Red Tails, trying to get his passion project made and onto the big screen in movie theatres. Cast members included Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, Ne-Yo, Tristan Wilds, Elijah Kelley, Michael B. Jordan, and Bryan Cranston.
The January 2012 release eventually brought in $50 million in box office grosses. Lucas received the Vanguard Award at the 43rd Annual NAACP Image Awards in February 2012.
Today, Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. has 57 active chapters located in 57 major cities and military installations throughout the United States. Membership includes civilians, veterans, and active duty and retired military personnel from all branches of the service.
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first black servicemen to serve as military aviators in the U.S. armed forces, flying with distinction during World War II. Though subject to racial discrimination both home and abroad, the 996 pilots and more than 15,000 ground personnel who served with the all-black units would be credited with some 15,000 combat sorties and earn over 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses. The highly publicized successes of the Tuskegee Airmen helped pave the way for the eventual integration of the U.S. armed forces under President Harry Truman in 1948.
The Airmen's success in escorting bombers in WW II - having one of the lowest loss records of all the escort fighter groups, and being in constant demand for their services by the allied bomber units - is a record unmatched by any other fighter group. The tenacious bomber escort cover provided by the 332nd Red Tail fighters often discouraged enemy fighter pilots from attacking the bombers they escorted.
Pilot training ended on June 29, 1946, and the base closed on June 12, 1947. The all-black 332nd Fighter Wing, the 332nd Fighter Group assigned to it, and the 99th, 100th and 301st Fighter Squadrons were all inactivated on July 1, 1949. The reassignment of the personnel of the all-black flying organizations to formerly all-white flying organizations was the most important step toward racial integration in the USAF.
Leon Johnson retired from the U.S. Air Force with the rank of brigadier general after 33 years of service. During his Air Force career, General Johnson commanded a fighter squadron, a fighter group, was the Vice Commander of 10th Air Force at the Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth, Texas, and served as the Mobilization Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force and Director Operations at Air Education and Training Command. He is a command pilot with more than 3500 hours of military flying time in the T-37 trainer, A-37 and A-10 fighter aircraft including missions over Bosnia in support of Operation Deny Flight. Following the events of 9/11, the general served as Director of the Air Force Crisis Action Team in the Pentagon. General Johnson was elected to his fourth two-year term as the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. national president in July 2016.