The Archer-Ragsdale Arizona Chapter (ARAC) was officially incorporated in the state of Arizona December 11, 2005. The chapter was named in honor of two original Tuskegee Airmen (OTA), Fred Archer, the first African American USAF CMSGT and Lincoln Ragsdale, a Civil Rights leader and prominent businessman in Phoenix and the State of Arizona. After a 33-year Air Force career, CMSGT Archer retired and lived in Tucson until his death, but not before leaving his mark in civic and retiree programs. Mr. Ragsdale was stationed at Luke AFB in 1945 and decided to remain in the Phoenix area after completing his military obligation. He was a cornerstone in the political and civil rights arena through his tireless efforts to help diversify the city government, schools and by his entrepreneurial pursuits.
Two other OTAs continued the legacy in the Phoenix area: Mr. Asa Herring and Mr. Bob Ashby. After 22 years as an Air Force pilot, Mr. Herring held key positions in the aviation industry in Phoenix. Mr. Ashby retired from the Air Force after 21 years and went on to become the first Black Captain of the Frontier Airlines. These two OTAs have maintained a remarkably active record as "Freedom Ambassadors" not only in the Phoenix but throughout the nation and the world. Both of these gentlemen have a long association with Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., (TAI) the national organization that works to keep the legacy alive through 49 other TAI chapters nationwide.
In recent years, other members of TAI and the Organization of Black Airlines Pilots (OBAP) settled in the Phoenix area and became involved in youth activities in the communities and churches. Committed to preserving the great legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, a small group of individuals met October 9, 2005 to discuss requirements for forming a TAI chapter. A slate of officers was appointed to serve for one year, and action was taken to apply for a charter from the national headquarters.
A successful membership drive was conducted at Luke AFB November 19, 2005. It featured three OTAs, two sons of OTAs and several "Second Generation Airmen." By December 12, 2005, 36 persons joined to form the Archer-Ragsdale Arizona Chapter (ARAC) and became Charter Members.
ARAC began immediately to develop an ambitious outreach program for youth throughout Phoenix and the state of Arizona. The group planned to particularly target minority youth to include African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans. Moreover, ARAC accepted the challenge of being host to the International Black Aerospace Council (IBAC) 2006 Co-Conventions, July 31-August 5, 2006. Thus, ARAC accomplished in five months what normally requires 12 to eighteen months.
During its formation, several of ARAC's members had a significant part in getting U. S. Congress to approve the Congressional Gold Metal for the OTAs. Another ARAC member, Captain Larry Jackson, Southwest Airlines, was among the highly selected pilots who transported the legendary Civil Rights icon, Mrs. Rosa Parks during her final services. In addition, two of the five Tuskegee Airmen who visited Iraq in November 2005 are members of the local chapter: Col. (Ret) Richard Toliver and Lt. Col (Ret) Robert Ashby. Recruited by Air Force, these men traveled to Germany, Iraq, Kuwait, and Spain to encourage our troops and see first-hand the performance of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Balad AB, Iraq. This wing was named in honor of the famed 332nd Fighter Group of Ramitelli, Italy during WW II. The Tuskegee Airmen brought back the assurance that these young patriots were united, mission oriented and performing in an exemplary manner while fighting a war. Thus, the men and women of 332nd today are the "Tuskegee Airmen of the 21st century."
The future of the ARAC is very promising, given its great leadership, dedicated and capable members, extensive aviation experience, organizational skills and business knowledge. The membership includes two OTAs (another OTA has been participating in TAI activities; another is contemplating joining), six commercial airline Captains, and active duty and retired senior officers and Non Commissioned Officers. Other members have a wealth of experience in business, law, and other disciplines. All are focused and committed to continuing the exemplary legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen and to having a dynamic, positive impact upon the youth of the state of Arizona and Southwest.