In 1941, the Tuskegee Institute Board of Directors decided to construct an improved airfield to enable more students to train for and obtain their pilot’s licenses. To do this, $200,000 would be needed to build the runway and facilities.
One of the entities contacted as a possible source for funding was the Julius Rosenwald Fund of Chicago, where Eleanor Roosevelt was a board member. The annual meeting of the Rosenwald Fund was held at Tuskegee with the First Lady in attendance.
While there, Mrs. Roosevelt asked to see the existing airport and was taken to Airport No. 1, known as Kennedy Field. There, she was introduced to many of the student pilots and Alfred “Chief” Anderson.
Alfred Anderson had become the first African-American to earn a commercial pilot license and had logged over 3,500 hours of flying. He was hired by the Tuskegee Institute to be their first flight instructor in 1939 and was now the chief instructor for the Tuskegee Institute’s Civilian Pilot Training Program.
Mrs. Roosevelt was impressed with what she saw and asked Chief Anderson for a ride in his Piper Cub. Her Secret Service detail tried to stop it, but she explained, “Don’t tell the First Lady what she can and can’t do!” She proceeded to climb into the back seat, Anderson climbed into the front seat, and off they flew for what she described later as a delightful flight.
This simple flight had big results. Soon after her visit, the Julius Rosenwald Fund donated $175,000 available, and construction of Moton Airfield quickly started. Eleanor Roosevelt continued to support black pilots and was delighted by what she witnessed.