January 23rd, 2012
11:34 AM ET

A midair courtship: Tuskegee's historic love story

Editor's note: Read more CNN coverage about the Tuskegee Airmen and "Red Tails," including "Hollywood's irrational allergy to black films," actor David Oyelowo's column about learning Tuskegee's history and more hidden heroes of America's past.

Tuskegee, Alabama (CNN) - Herbert Carter and Mildred Hemmons had no time for dating in the early months of 1942.

He was training to become a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, the nation's first military program for African-American pilots.

She was the bold, daring woman who caught his eye. At 18, she'd become the first black woman in Alabama to earn a pilot's license. She had hopes of becoming a military pilot, too.

Flying was intoxicating. It provided Herbert and Mildred a sense of freedom - to be themselves, to dream big. The in-your-face racism of the segregated South was gone, if only for a while. In the air, the sky was literally the limit.

It takes pioneers to force change. Herbert and Mildred would play their part in the years ahead. But in those early days, they didn't see themselves as trailblazers. They were young and in love.

More than anything, flight provided a rare opportunity to see each other. He'd call her up on Fridays: "Are you gonna be flying this weekend?"

"Of course," she'd say.

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