Photographer, cinematographer and author Charles Dorkins was born December 16, 1922 in Baltimore, MD to Christopher and Athie Dorkins.
He graduated from Tuskegee Army Air Field on March 11, 1945 part of class TE-45-A, trained to fly twin engine B-25 bombers as part of the 477th Bombardment Group. The bomber pilots and crew would never deploy as the War ended in the Pacific before they were sent overseas.
During training, Dorkins was part of group of officers that was arrested for trying to gain entrance into a military officers club at Freeman Army Airfield in Indiana. The event would become known as the Freeman Field Mutiny, a non-violent act of protest that went on to become a treasured and landmark point in the burgeoning civil rights movement.
Early in 1945, the 477thwas moved twice, first to Kentucky, then to Indiana. It was here, at Freeman Army Airfield, that the group’s Commander, Col Robert Selway, created 2 clubs – segregating “trainees” from “instructors.” This distinction was a thinly-veiled disguise for the real purpose, which was to segregate the black officers, all of which were trainees, from the instructors who were white.
There had been issues with officers’ clubs in the past, but at Freeman Field the black officers took a stand, and ended up in the history books. Over the course of several days in April 1945, black officers, in small groups, tried to enter the white-only officers club, each time met with greater resistance. Eventually, 120 black officers who had tried to gain entrance were arrested. All would be released later that month, but it would be decades before they were fully exonerated for their protest.
After the War, Dorkins relocated to New York City where, for more than 50 years, he worked as a filmmaker and photographer. His long and fruitful career included many milestones.
Dorkins was part of a United Nations-sponsored project to promote cultural sharing around the world, where he had the opportunity to meet several world leaders. He produced an award-winning documentary in the early 1960s for NBC about the revolution in the then Belgian Congo, in which he lived with the revolutionaries and was injured. Other projects included a black film production of Hamlet shot in the Bahamas; a documentary about life in black neighborhoods of Detroit in the late 1960s at the height of the era’s racial tension; and a film about the Tuskegee Airmen.
Dorkins passed away at the age of 95 on April 9, 2018. Thank you for your service to our country 2ndLt. Dorkins!
For a look into Dorkins life and service as a Tuskegee Airmen see these items in the CAF Red Tail Squadron Virtual Musuem:
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.