Lee A. Archer, Jr. – Lieutenant Colonel, United States Air Force

Tuskegee Airman Ace, Lee A. Archer, passes at 90

Courtesy of the Amsterdam News
3 February 2010

Famed Tuskegee Airman Lee A. Archer, whose exploits during World War II earned him recognition as an ace pilot, died last Wednesday at Cornell University Medical Center in Manhattan, said his son Roy Archer. A cause of death was not immediately determined. He was 90.

While Archer was widely viewed as a war hero, having flown 196 missions during World War II with his legendary unit, he also distinguished himself in the world of business as an executive at General Foods and as a founder of his own venture capital firm.

Lee Archer

“Lee had two great careers,” said Dr. Roscoe C. Brown Jr., himself a renowned Tuskegee Airman and currently director of the Center for Urban Education Policy and professor at the Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York. “He was a true American hero and an ace pilot, and a very successful businessman and entrepreneur.”

Brown was effusive in recalling the time when he first met Archer. “He was five classes ahead of me in flight school in Tuskegee,” he began, “but eventually we ended up flying missions together, however, in different squadrons. He was in the 302nd and I was in the 100th.”

Archer, Brown continued, “is generally considered an ace pilot because he is credited with shooting down five enemy planes.” For several years, there was an ongoing dispute about whether Archer was actually an ace since there was some question about the fifth plane shot down.

“After an investigation by the Air Force, it was decided that Lee, in fact, shot down the fifth plane, and is thereby the first and only Black ace pilot,” Brown concluded. Though Brown shot down the first German jet, he is not considered an ace.

Archer came home from overseas in November 1944, Brown said, and subsequently taught pilot training at UCLA before returning to teach ROTC at New York University.

Born in Yonkers on Sept. 6, 1919, and raised in Harlem, Archer enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1941, but because of his race, he was rejected for pilot training. However, he was welcomed to the all-Black unit of the Army Air Corps, then training at the airbase in Tuskegee, Alabama. The late Percy Sutton and Coleman Young, the first Black mayor of Detroit, were members of the famed unit.

Four years after the war was over, President Harry Truman desegregated the armed services, where Archer was content to live out his days. But in 1970, having become a Lieutenant Colonel, he retired and entered the world of business.

“I first met Lee at General Foods in 1972 when I was there as an intern,” said Alfonso Carney. “I think he arrived there two years before in 1970 and was soon working as a director of urban affairs. When I returned to the company in 1974 as division attorney, Lee was a vice president, the first African-American to attain that position.”

What most impressed Carney about Archer was the unflappable way he conducted himself and made sure minority institutions received financial support from the company. “The NAACP, the Urban League, TLC Beatrice, Essence and Black Enterprise magazine are to some extent indebted to Lee for making sure they were the recipients of funds,” Carney related. “He was my mentor and a great storyteller. And the one thing that sticks in my mind about him is that he was sometimes wrong, but never uncertain.”

“He could be very demanding,” said Brown, “and always confident.” Brown agreed that he did not suffer fools kindly.

In 2007, Archer was among those to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, emblematic of his magnificent service, which, as President George W. Bush told him, “the country couldn’t repay” him enough for his service.

Archer and some 300 Tuskegee Airmen were invited by President Barack Obama to his inauguration in the nation’s capital, and though confined to a wheelchair, he endured the chilly weather to attend the ceremony.

“This is a great moment,” he told a reporter, before asking Brown to push him on so he could get on the bus without anymore fuss.

After retiring from General Foods in 1987, Archer founded the venture capital firm Archer Asset Management.

He is survived by three sons and a daughter. His wife, Ina Archer, died in 1996. Funeral services are planned for Thursday, February 4 at 11 a.m. at Riverside Church.

Retired Air Force Lieutenant 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, 3 February 2010, in New York City. He was 90.

His son, Roy Archer, said his father 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 Thursday.

Archer was acknowledged to have shot down four planes, and he and another pilot both claimed victory for shooting down a fifth plane. An investigation revealed Archer had inflicted the damage that destroyed the plane, said Brown, and the Air Force eventually proclaimed him an ace pilot.

The Air Force Historical Research Agency says Archer officially shot down four enemy planes, and researchers have not confirmed a fifth to be designated an ace.

Archer, a resident of New Rochelle, New York, “lived a full life,” said his son. “His last two or three years were amazing for him.”

Archer was among the group of Tuskegee Airmen invited to attend President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009. The airmen, who escorted bomber planes during the war fought with distinction, only to face bigotry and segregation when they returned home, were also awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their service in 2007 by President George W. Bush.

Archer was “extremely competent, aggressive about asserting his position and sometimes stubborn,” Brown said.

“He had a heart of gold and treated people with respect. He demanded respect by the way he carried himself.”

Brown estimated that about 50 or 60 of the 994 Tuskegee Airmen pilots are still alive.

Born on Sept. 6, 1919, in Yonkers and raised in Harlem, Archer left New York University to enlist in the Army Air Corps 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,” said Brown.

Archer instead joined a segregated Army Air Corps unit at the Tuskegee, Alabama, 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 era’s few black corporate vice presidents of a major American company.

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 adviser 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. Services have yet to be announced.

Lee A. Archer Jr.
3 February 2010

Lee A. Archer, Jr. famed World War II pilot and original Tuskegee Airmen passed away on Wednesday, January 27, 2010, at Cornell Medical Center of New York, of natural causes. There will be a Memorial Service at Riverside Church on Thursday, February 4, 2010, at 11:00 AM and an interment on Wednesday, February 10, 2010, at 9 AM at Arlington National Cemetery.

Born and raised in New York, Mr. Archer attended Dewitt Clinton High School before getting his degree from UCLA and NYU.

Having been initially denied to enter the Army Air Corp. due to segregation, Archer was accepted into Tuskegee Institute as a Fighter Pilot in 1942 as a member of the 302nd Fighter Squadron under the 332nd Fighter Group. Generally accepted as the first black ace pilot, he was one of four men ‘To Triple’, when he destroyed three German Me-109’s, during a single mission on October 13,1944.

After the war, Mr. Archer had a distinguished career of 29 years in the Air Force with tours in Paris, France Brunswick, Maine and the Panama Canal Zone.  He retired from the Air Force in 1970 with numerous honors including citations from three Presidents.

Lee Archer’s business career was as exemplary as his Service career. After leaving the Air Force, he joined General Foods and rose to the position of Corporate Vice-President.

After his retirement he was one of a group led by Reginald Lewis which bought McCall Pattern Company and initiated a successful buyout (LBO) of Beatrice International Foods in 1987 which effectively made TLC Beatrice the largest minority owned firm in the United States. Among his board memberships are TLC Beatrice Genuine Leaf (Africa) and U.S.Asia Institute. He was noted by Fortune Magazine as one of five pioneers who broke corporate America’s color barrier.

He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2008 and The Legion of Honor, Chevalier (France).

In April 2009, Mr. Archer was selected to be an advisor for the upcoming George Lucas produced film, “The Red Tails.”

Lee A. Archer is survived by sons Lee (Janine), Raymond (Jennifer), Roy (Venita); daughter Ina Diane; granddaughters Gabrielle, Ghyslanine, Emily and Alexandra. He was husband to the late Ina Burdell Archer and grandfather to the late Amanda.

Family to receive friends Wednesday 6-8PM Barney T. McClanahan Funeral Home, 30 Winthrop Avenue, New Rochelle, New York. In lieu of flowers, contributions to Amanda Rachel Archer Memorial Scholarship Fund, New Rochelle High School, 265 Clove Road.,New Rochelle, New York 10801.

Tuskegee Airman

Members of the honor guard carry the casket of retired World War II Air Force fighter 
pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen Lieutenant ColonelLee Archer, Friday, February 12, 2010

Lee Archer

A member of the honor guard finishes folding an American flag during a burial service for retired World War II 
fighter pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen Lieutenant Colonel Lee Archer, Friday, February 12, 20010, at Arlington National Cemetery

Ina Diane Archer

Ina Diane Archer, right, daughter of Lieuetnant Colonel Lee Archer, a World War II fighter pilot with the 
Tuskegee Airmen, is presented with a flag during his funeral services at Arlington National Cemetery

  • DATE OF BIRTH: 05/29/1925
  • DATE OF DEATH: 10/06/1996

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