Lee A. Archer dies at 90; Tuskegee Airman was ace pilot
Feb 01, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Retired Air Force Lt. Colonel Lee A. Archer, a Tuskegee Airman considered to be the only black ace pilot, who also broke racial barriers as an executive at a major U.S. company and founder of a venture capital firm, died Wednesday in New York City. He was 90. FOR THE RECORD: Lee Archer: The obituary of retired Air Force Lt. Col. Lee A. Archer in Monday's Section A said the Air Force had designated Archer, a Tuskegee Airman, an ace for shooting down five enemy planes in World War II. The Air Force Historical Research Agency says that Archer officially shot down four enemy planes and that researchers have not confirmed a fifth, needed to be designated an ace. —
His son Roy said Archer died at Cornell University Medical Center in Manhattan. A cause of death was not immediately determined.
The Tuskegee Airmen were America's first black fighter pilot group in World War II.
"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.
Archer was acknowledged to have shot down four planes, and he and another pilot both claimed victory for shooting down a fifth. An investigation revealed that Archer had inflicted the damage that destroyed the plane, Brown said, and the Air Force eventually proclaimed him an ace.
Archer, a resident of New Rochelle, N.Y., was among the group of Tuskegee Airmen invited to President Obama's inauguration in 2009.
The airmen, who escorted bombers during the war, faced bigotry and segregation when they returned home. In 2007 they were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their service by President George W. Bush.
Born Sept. 6, 1919, in Yonkers, N.Y., and raised in Harlem, Archer left New York University to enlist in the Army in 1941 but was rejected for pilot training because the military didn't allow blacks to serve as pilots.
"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," Brown said.
Archer instead joined a segregated Army Air Forces unit at the Tuskegee, Ala., air base, graduating from pilot training in July 1943.
After he retired from the military in 1970, Archer joined General Foods Corp., becoming one of the few black corporate vice presidents of a major American company in that era.
He ran one of the company's small-business investment arms, North Street Capital Corp., which funded companies that included Essence Communications and Black Enterprise Magazine, according to his son and Brown.
Archer was an advisor to the late Reginald Lewis in the deal that created the conglomerate TLC Beatrice in 1987, then the largest black-owned and -managed business in the U.S.
After retiring from General Foods in 1987, Archer founded the venture capital firm Archer Asset Management.
Archer is survived by three sons and a daughter. His wife, Ina Archer, died in 1996.