Retired Air Force Lt. Colonel Lee A. Archer, known for being the first and only black ace pilot, died in New York City Wednesday at the age of 90.
Archer was born in Yonkers in 1919 and grew up in Harlem. At the time of his death, Archer was one of the few surviving Tuskegee Airmen- only around 50 to 60 of the nearly 1,000 men are believed to still be living. A fellow Tuskegee Airman spoke to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution about Archer’s accomplishments:
“It is generally conceded that Lee Archer was the first and only black ace pilot,” credited with shooting down five enemy planes, Dr. Roscoe Brown Jr., a fellow Tuskegee Airman and friend, said in a telephone interview Thursday.
Archer left NYU to enlist with the Army AirCorps in 1941, but was initially rejected on the basis of race, said Brown:
“A War Department study in 1925 expressly stated that Negroes didn’t have the intelligence, or the character, or the leadership to be in combat units, and particularly, they didn’t have the ability to be Air Force pilots,” said Brown.
After finally retiring from the military in 1970, Archer went on to become one of the first black corporate Vice Presidents when he joined General Foods. Later in his career, he founded the venture capital firm Archer Asset Management. Archer is survived by three sons, and was predeceased by his wife Ina in 1996. Cause of death has not yet been determined.