The World War II-era military
was segregated by race, with African Americans training and serving in black units. These troops were often assigned to combat support roles. Some black units, however, were able to overcome the opposition of military leaders and entered combat. During the war thousands of African-American servicemen, primarily members of the Army and Army Air Force, served in Florida. In addition to the black servicemen from other states who trained in Florida, more than 50,000 black Floridians entered the military during the war.
Many northern blacks who trained in Florida were shocked at the social segregation and the condition of race relations in the state. The more than 500,000 African-American civilians living in Florida experienced segregated communities, schools, and restaurants.
A notable black ground combat unit was the 92nd Infantry Division, nicknamed the "Buffalo Division," based on their shoulder patch and the name given to late 19th-century black soldiers in the American West. The 92nd Division's enlisted men were all African Americans and were mainly from southern states, including Florida. The unit engaged in bitter combat against the Germans in the Italian campaign during 1944-1945.
One of the most famous black units of the war was the 99th Fighter Squadron, one of several units often collectively known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Commanded by West Point graduate and future general Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., the unit trained for a time at Dale Mabry Field near Tallahassee. Despite the belief of many whites that African Americans would not perform well in combat, and a general reluctance to train blacks as aviators, the pilots of the 99th Fighter Squadron went on to earn an outstanding combat record in North Africa and Italy. At least nine Floridians, including future general Daniel "Chappie" James, served in the ranks of the famed Tuskegee Airmen.