Milton Crenchaw

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Milton Pitts Crenchaw (January 13, 1919 – November 17, 2015)[1] was an American aviator who was considered the father of black aviation in Arkansas. He was the first Arkansan to be successfully trained by the federal government as a civilian licensed pilot. He overcame the social injustices of racism and bigotry to serve his country during World War II as a civilian flight instructor.[2]

Early life[edit]

Crenchaw was born to Reverend Joseph C. Crenchaw and Ethel Pitts Crenchaw at Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1919. His father was a local civil rights leader with the NAACP who was president of the Little Rock Chapter during the Little Rock Central High School Crisis, and a professional tailor. His mother was a beautician. Crenchaw had three siblings. He graduated from Dunbar High School (the local black high school) in 1936. After graduating, he attended Dunbar Junior College where he received a teaching certificate in auto mechanics. After leaving Dunbar Junior College, Crenchaw pursued a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the Tuskegee Institute in 1939. He did not receive a degree, however because he postponed his academics to pursue becoming a pilot. Crenchaw was the first Arkansan to arrive and to graduate from Moton Airbase in Tuskegee, Alabama.[3]

Aviation career[edit]

Crenchaw went from living the life of a college student to flying in the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP). The CPTP was sponsored by the Army Air Corps. He was a flight instructor. After the start of World War II, there was a shortage of pilots. To combat this problem, then President Franklin D. Roosevelt, helped start a program to train more civilian pilots (thus increasing military preparedness). Crenchaw graduated in 1941 with his civilian pilot certificate from the Army Air Corps program sponsored by the Civil Aeronautics Administration.

Crenshaw was named Primary Flight Instructor in 1942 at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Alabama. He was one of the two original supervising squadron members under Chief Pilot Charles A. Anderson. Anderson was the first African-American man to have a private pilot license in 1929. Mr. Crenchaw taught many pilots and cadets known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Some of the notables were William T. Mattison, Charles Debow, Daniel “Chappie” James, Lieutenant Colonel Charles “Chuck” Dryden, and fellow Arkansan Woodrow Crockett. Not only did Crenchaw serve at Tuskegee but he also served at Fort Sill in Oklahoma from 1953 to 1954, Camp Rucker (now Fort Rucker) in Alabama from 1954 to 1966, and Fort Stewart in Georgia from 1966 until 1972. While at Camp Rucker, Crenchaw conquered another first. He became the first black flight instructor on these predominantly white airbases.

In 1947, Crenchaw returned to his hometown of Little Rock. He wanted to start aviation courses at Philander Smith College. He shared the idea to then-president, Dr. M. L. Harris. Harris agreed, and Philander Smith held such classes at Little Rock’s Adams Field (now the Little Rock National Airport) in the building of the Central Flying Service. Crenchaw taught aviation at Philander Smith from 1947 to 1953. From 1972 until 1983, Crenchaw worked as an equal employment opportunity officer with the Department of Defense and as a race relations officer at Fort Stewart in Georgia. He died on November 17, 2015 at the age of 96 near Atlanta, Georgia from pneumonia and cardiovascular disease.[4]

Awards[edit]

Crenchaw has received numerous awards and certificates for his role as a Tuskegee Airman. Milton Crenchaw was a member of the now-defunct Judge Robert Decatur Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. (TAI). He has received thanks from many including Congressman Vic Snyder and President Bill Clinton Crenchaw was inducted into the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame in 1998. On March 27, 2007, he was honored by Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe for his historic efforts as a Tuskegee flight instructor and service to his country.

Along with all the other estimated 16-19,000 participants of the "Tuskegee Experience" (1941-1949), Crenchaw was collectively, not individually awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on March 29, 2007 by President George W. Bush in Washington, D.C. The Tuskegee Airmen are the largest group to ever receive this medal. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress.

Crenchaw was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame on October 27, 2007 due to the efforts of Edmond Davis; it is the topic of an upcoming book entitled, Airkansan: The Milton Crenchaw Story to be published in 2009.[needs update]

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