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Brack Marcus Barr

Tuskegee Airman

Brack Marcus Barr was the son of sharecroppers who relocated from Monticello, Georgia to the Manchester neighborhood of Pittsburgh when Brack was only 5.  Barr graduated from Oliver High School in 1934 at which time he enlisted in the Navy.  His six year stint as a naval man took him to Spain, Germany and Hawaii.  After receiving an honorable discharge from the Navy in 1941, Barr returned to Pittsburgh to work in the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company as well as the Naval Yard on Neville Island.  Six months after his discharge, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, sinking four battleships, including USS Oklahoma, the ship on which Barr had been stationed.

Seeking better opportunities for himself and his new wife, Barr enlisted in the Army at the age of 29.  He applied for and was accepted into a new and demanding program designed to train African American men to serve as Air Force pilots and was deployed to Tuskegee Institute.

When America entered World War II in 1941 The Air Force was a major component of the American Military but no African Americans had been allowed to serve as Air Force Pilots.  Some African American military personnel had been trained during World War I to be “Aerial Oberservationists” but, upon completing their training, had not been allowed to serve in that capacity.  This and other such rejections of African American volunteers had led to much lobbying between the World Wars to convince Congress to allow African American Air Force Pilots.  Finally, in 1939, Congress passed Appropriations Bill Public Law 18 which designated funds for training African American pilots.

1939 was the same year that the Tuskegee Institute started its Civilian Pilot Training Program.  By 1941 pressure from both Congress and the War itself moved the Army Air Corp to form an all-black unit, trained and fit for the demands of air combat, both piloting fighter planes as well as maintaining them.  The CPTP of Tuskegee was in charge of producing a strong pool of candidates for just such a unit. Stationed at an isolated airfield in Alabama, the training was strict and brutal.  Despite such demands, over 1000 candidates passed their exams. Barr was one of 71 trainees from Northern Pennsylvania who successfully completed the training but he did not see action in Europe due to illness. By the end of WWII, Tuskegee pilots had flown over 1400 missions and were known as skilled fliers and brave soldiers.  Their efforts in WWII went far in racial desegregation of the American Armed Forces, which was finally signed into law by President Truman in July of 1948. 

After the war, Brack reunited with his wife and family in Pittsburgh.  He worked for the United States Post Office for 34 years.  After retiring in 1972, he worked as a bank messenger and volunteered his time as a deacon at both the New Zion Church and White Lily Baptist Church. He also worked with the Neighborhood Youth Corps job training program.  Barr was a deeply educated and informed man, an avid reader across a wide range of topics, despite his full schedule of work, church and community involvement. He died from complications of Parkinson’s disease on January 12, 2001.


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