In The Steps of Esteban: Tucson's African American Heritage

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African American Aviators

Fred Archer

New Honor: Air Force may name building for Tucsonan

By George Mercedes
Citizen Staff Writer
February 13, 1989

Fred Archer, a Tucson community activist who began his military career in the days when black and white servicemen were segregated, may have his name posthumously enshrined on a second government building.

A Davis-Monthan Air Force Base spokesman said Archer was nominated last week as one of 16 candidates to have a new Air Force building named after him.

"I think it is beautiful," said Archer's widow, Frances.

D-M spokesman Capt. Carlos Roque said the Air Force solicited the nominations from the 16 Tactical Air Command units across the country. If Archer is chosen, a building at the TAC headquarters at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va., will be named i n his memory.

On Dec. 12, the Tucson City Council voted to rename the "A" Mountain Neighborhood Center at 1665 S. La Cholla Blvd. the Fred Archer Neighborhood Center. Archer was the center's first director.

"It's wonderful. I only wish it would have happened while he was still alive," Mrs. Archer said. Archer died in September at the age of 67.

As a young man, he was assigned to the 99th Pursuit Squadron when it was formed in 1941. The squadron was an experimental all-black unit intended to test whether blacks could fly and maintain aircraft. A 1925 War Department study had said that blacks lacked the intelligence for such duty.

The squadron, in which Archer maintained weapons and loaded bombs onto planes, went on to serve honorably during World War II, flying missions in North Africa and Italy. In 1948, a presidential executive order ended segregation in the armed forces.

Though Archer was a man who in his own way helped change the course of civil rights, his wife said he was a soldier before an activist.

"He (Archer) was a man who didn't talk much about those things. Here was a black man who went in the service, gone overseas, fighting for his country. I know it hurt him, sure it did, but he didn't talk about it," Mrs. Archer said.

After serving with the 99th, Archer came to D-M in 1949 and served with the 43rd Bombardment Wing. After other assignments nationwide and overseas, he returned to Tucson in 1974 and retired with the rank of chief master sergeant, one of the first blac ks to reach that highest of enlisted ranks, Roque said.

In 1978, Archer became the director of the newly opened "A" Mountain Neighborhood Center, which offers day-care, health, senior citizen, and other programs. He served in that position until his death.

"He wasn't interested in sitting back in a wheelchair," said Mrs. Archer, whose husband went on to become involved with numerous community organizations.

He was a board member of the Model Cities body, chairman of the Citizens' Participation Council, and in 1978, he was appointed to the state's Citizens' Commission on Tax Reform and School Finance.

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