Robin Roberts on Her Dad’s Connection to ‘Tuskegee Airmen: Legacy of Courage’ on History

Tuskegee Airmen
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As an ESPN sportscaster and Good Morning America host, Robin Roberts has covered many important stories. But producing and narrating the documentary, Tuskegee Airmen: Legacy of Courage, about America’s first Black military pilots, was special: Her father, the late Col. Lawrence Roberts, was one of them.

“It was deemed that people of color were not smart enough to fly planes or be mechanics,” she says. Then, as World War II loomed, President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved a program to train Black pilots and support crew in Tuskegee, Alabama. In 1941, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt insisted on flying and being photographed with one of the airmen. In 1943, a squadron was finally sent to Europe to fight.

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The Tuskegee units’ success, in both escorting bombers to safety and shooting down enemy planes, is legendary. Gen. Charles McGee, one of the last surviving pilots, tells his story in Legacy of Courage. But the documentary goes beyond the stats to bring attention to the airmen’s broader contributions.

“Their courageous service helped end segregation in the military [in 1948] and paved the way for the Civil Rights Movement,” Roberts explains, noting that her dad said he felt more free in the air than he did on land. “Barack Obama wrote that his career in public service was made possible by the path heroes like the Tuskegee Airmen trailblazed.”

Robin Roberts

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Although WWII ended right before Roberts’ father was to be deployed overseas, he served in Korea and Vietnam during his 30-plus years in the military. “As a child, my father would go down in his basement with a sawed-off broom handle, imagining he was flying. People would tell him, ‘Son, you’re crazy. You’re never going to fly [as a Black man].’ He proved them wrong,” she says. “So when I wanted to be a sports journalist as a Black woman in the South and I was told, ‘You can’t do that,’ I’d say, ‘Bring it on!’ That’s the DNA coursing through my veins.”

Tuskegee Airmen: Legacy of Courage, Premieres Wednesday, February 10,8/7c,History