Review: Pride and prejudice of the American South

BENJAMIN O Davis, only the second black cadet to attend West Point, must have been a man of remarkable fortitude. Billeted alone, trained alone and left alone, he endured almost four years as an invisible man. On Sundays, when cadets weren't allocated places in the mess, he had to observe his own humiliating ritual, walking from table to table in the vast dining hall, asking the senior cadet for permission to sit down. At table after table he would be turned away. 'Nightfighters' (ITV), Network First's moving documentary about America's first black pilots, was full of such stories, accounts of extraordinary men fighting to lead ordinary lives.

Charles Alfred Anderson was another, an 86-year-old who still flies daily and has lived long enough to see a road named after him in the redneck town of Tuskeegee, Alabama. When he first asked for flying lessons he was told that 'we don't take coloured people up'. So he scraped together the money to buy a second-hand plane and taught himself (civil aviation regulations were clearly more broad-minded in those pioneering days). When Eleanor Roosevelt visited his airfield she gamely insisted that he take her up for a spin, having been told by her advisors that black people couldn't fly. He still believes that it was her intervention with the President that lead to the establishment of the Tuskeegee Experiment, a training programme set up to determine whether blacks would make good fighter pilots.

This was a question expecting the answer no. In a secret study on the use of 'negro manpower in war' the National War College had declared among other pseudo-scientific bigotries, that 'the negro is a rank coward in the dark'. The report officially closed the door to black participation in the war at any level besides that of menial labourer. Forced to establish the Tuskeegee programme by political pressure, the army had no particular desire for it to succeed. Entry requirements were far higher than for whites, and no opportunity was missed to flunk the students.

When they were eventually allowed into combat, after endless prevarication and false reports of their cowardice, they rapidly established themselves as the finest fighter escort squadron available (under the command of Benjamin Davis). They ended the war able to boast that they never lost a single bomber to enemy fighters, a claim no other squadron could match.

There were some honourable exceptions to the depressing parade of white ignorance and injustice. The base commander in Tuskeegee, a Southern white steeped in the prejudices of the time, recognised the men's talents and fought for their right to defend the society that treated them with such contempt. But when they returned it was to find that segregation started at the bottom of the gang- plank. German prisoners of war had more privileges in Southern bases than black airmen decorated for valour. This was a bitter story - the hurt was still alive in these distinguished, elderly men - and it was well told by Jeremy Bugler in a film alert to the powerful metaphors of ascent and flight and the desire to climb. In terms of quality, Carlton has been running a ferocious overdraft for months; this went some way to redress the balance.

In a sense, 40 Minutes (BBC 2) was also about attempts to break through a barrier of segregation - in this case that between civvies and Army regulars. Ian Levison had the good idea to look at how defence cuts affected four individuals of various ranks, though he wasn't entirely rewarded with good material - as you might have predicted, Major Charles Blackmore fared rather better than Corporal Lois Burgoo, a black athletics instructor for the Parachute Regiment.

I don't want to be unfair to Major Blackmore, who struck me as impressively determined, but where exactly do you draw the line between initiative and privilege in his remark about how he got his job at a merchant bank: 'When I first applied I was told that the list was closed but I went through a different door and made sure I got on to that list.'

Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform