Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Arque Dickerson, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, dies at 91

ST. PETERSBURG — Arque Dickerson enlisted in the Army Air Forces in 1942. A year later he officially joined the ranks of the Tuskegee Airmen.

He considered it one of the proudest moments of his life.

The Airmen included more than 16,000 men and women whose efforts supported nearly 1,000 African-American fighter pilots, together making up the "Tuskegee Experience." Mr. Dickerson tried his hand at flying and was rated a good fighter pilot. Though he never saw combat, he went on to train other military pilots.

Other Tuskegee Airmen escorted bombers over Germany, Italy and North Africa during World War II. They have taken a place in history as an important influence in desegregating the military — something that did not happen until 1948 — and a forerunner of the civil rights movement.

Mr. Dickerson went on to a career in industrial design, specializing in aircraft interiors. Clients included Queen Elizabeth II, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and the royal family of Sweden. He remained grateful to have been a part of a historic mission and attended gatherings of a chapter named after a fellow airman, Daniel "Chappie" James, the first African-American four-star general.

Mr. Dickerson, who soared above the discrimination he faced in and out of the military, died June 18 after an illness. He was 91.

The Airmen, who formed the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the Army Air Forces, were nicknamed "Red Tails" for the distinctive red paint that members of the 332nd applied to the tails of their P-47 and P-51 planes. They racked up a distinguished record, often outgunning the Germans who had more planes in the sky and earning 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses.

For Mr. Dickerson, the Tuskegee Airmen achieved an equally important victory at home.

"We all had a reason for being there," he told the Times several years ago. "It was proving that black people could fly."

Had the country not been at war, its military would likely not have trained black pilots. Jim Crow laws mandating segregation prevailed, especially in the South. White instructors at Tuskegee Army Air Field sometimes did as much to hinder their progress as to assist it.

German prisoners of war brought to Tuskegee sometimes asked the Airmen, "Why would you want to go over there and fight us when you're being treated so badly here?" Mr. Dickerson recalled in another interview.

"Of course, they made a good point. But we pushed all of that aside."

Only about one in four aspiring Airmen in his class became wartime pilots. Though he did not make the cut, the Army Air Forces classified Mr. Dickerson a fighter pilot shortly after the war and sent him to MacDill Air Force Base, where he served as a technical instructor.

He left the service in 1946 as a sergeant. A year later he enrolled in the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. A professor there told him he was wasting his time studying industrial engineering because no one would hire him.

Numerous companies did. Eventually he started Arque Dickerson Industrial Design. Over the years he worked with Saab, Boeing, Northwest Airlines and British Aerospace, among others, designing instrument panels or other parts of the interior of airplanes, including the Concorde.

Arque Bradford Dickerson was born in St. Louis in 1923, the son of a trumpet player in Cab Calloway's band. He was married three times for about 20 years each. Ulla Grundberg, his second wife, was Swedish. Geraldine McGuinness, with whom he moved to St. Petersburg in the early 1990s, is from the United Kingdom.

He looked back on the Tuskegee Airmen as "a vindication," said Birgitta Dickerson, 46, a lawyer and Mr. Dickerson's daughter.

At his assisted living facility, she said, "A lot of (World War II veterans) would come over and thank him for what he and others had accomplished. And these were gentlemen that were Caucasian."

A spokeswoman for Tuskegee Airmen, a nonprofit historical organization, said it is unclear how many of the original Airmen are still alive.

Contact Andrew Meacham at or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.


Arque Bradford Dickerson

Born: May 6, 1923

Died: June 18, 2014

Survivors: wife Geraldine; sons Craig and Nicklas Dickerson; daughters Birgitta Dickerson and Gabriella Smith; sister Doris Morgan; and six grandchildren.

Service: To be determined.

Arque Dickerson, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, dies at 91 07/09/14 [Last modified: Thursday, July 10, 2014 6:25am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Two boys in critical condition after Largo crash


    LARGO — A 7-year-old boy was thrown from a car in a head-on crash on Starkey Road, and both he and a 6-year-old boy were in critical condition Sunday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

  2. Trump's new order bars almost all travel from seven countries


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Sunday issued a new order banning almost all travel to the United States from seven countries, including most of the nations covered by his original travel ban, citing threats to national security posed by letting their citizens into the country.

    President Donald Trump speaks to reporters Sunday upon his return to the White House in Washington.
  3. Somehow, Rays' Chris Archer remains just shy of being an ace

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — Chris Archer had another bad game Sunday.

    Chris Archer is sputtering to the finish line, his rough start on Sunday his fourth in his past five in which he hasn’t gotten past four innings.
  4. In Mexico City, hopes of finding quake survivors dwindle


    MEXICO CITY — Five days after the deadly magnitude 7.1 earthquake, the hulking wreckage of what used to be a seven-story office building is one of the last hopes: one of just two sites left where searchers believe they may still find someone trapped alive in Mexico City.

    Rescue workers search for survivors inside a felled office building in the Roma Norte neighborhood of Mexico City on Saturday.
  5. GOP health bill in major peril as resistance hardens among key senators


    WASHINGTON — The floundering Republican attempt to undo the Affordable Care Act met hardening resistance from key GOP senators Sunday that left it on the verge of collapse even as advocates vowed to keep pushing for a vote this week.

    Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a moderate, said Sunday that it was “very difficult” to envision voting for this health-care bill.