By Sam Brunson
Last week, my family and I were at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site. I wasn’t terribly familiar with the Tuskegee Airmen before visiting; frankly, their story is amazing, inspiring, and shocking. Basically, Army War College study from the early twentieth century claimed that African Americans lacked intelligence, ambition, and courage, and were thus unfit for the military, and especially unfit to be airmen.
The Tuskegee Institute had an airfield where it trained African American pilots; eventually the government accepted it as a training ground for military pilots. The Tuskegee Airmen proved the Army War College study wrong with a distinguished record of military service. Still, the military in the 1940s was segregated, and these Tuskegee Airmen served in segregated units and, when they returned home, they faced continued racism. Many, tired of what they experienced, went on to join the civil rights movement. And many of them share their stories, through audio, video, pictures, and artifacts, at the NHS.
The story of the Tuskegee Airmen is an essential part of the sad history of racial discrimination in the country, as well as a history of essential steps toward overcoming that discrimination, and, if you’re ever near Tuskegee, AL, you really need to go. And, while this is far from a major focus, it also hints at the uneasy transition of the income tax from a class to a mass tax.
Where does it to that? In a reconstructed training room in Hangar 1. As I was looking at how the pilots learned what enemy planes looked like, my daughter called me over.[fn1] She was reading Solo, which appears to be a newsletter from Moton Field, the Tuskegee flight school, and she pointed it out to me:
So what’s going on here? In 1943, Congress passed the Current Tax Payment Act of 1943. The Act represented a change; prior to 1943, taxpayers were expected to save enough money to pay their taxes when those taxes came due. The Current Tax Payment Act introduced withholding, under which taxpayers essentially prepaid their tax liability on a current basis.
While there’s nothing wrong with withholding, there was a transition problem: in the year of the change, taxpayers would have to both pay taxes for the prior year and would have wages withheld for the current year. While they’d ultimately end up paying the same amount, during the transition year, they’d double up their payments.
Congress dealt with the problem partially by reducing (though not eliminating) the 1942 tax. It also delayed the due date for 1943. While going forward taxes would be due March 15th, in 1943, the due date was pushed to September 15th. According to the bill’s legislative history,
With respect to the year 1943, the withholding provisions will go into operation as of July 1. Since most taxpayers have already filed their 1942 returns on March 15, their payments on March 15 and June 15, 1943, will be treated as payments in respect of their 1943 tax liability. Taxpayers on the calendar year basis who are required to file declarations of their estimated tax will file their first declaration for 1943 on September 15, and their payments made in March and June will be treated as payments of their estimated 1943 tax. An amended declaration may be filed on December 15, if the taxpayer desires to amend his estimate. A farmer on the calendar year basis, meeting the definition of the law, may make his declaration of his estimated tax for 1943 on or before December 15 and pay the estimated tax due.”
In August of 1943, though, the Treasury Department issued a ruling changing the due date for military personnel. I can’t, in my casually bloggy search, find the actual ruling, but both the newsletter from Tuskegee and this Chicago Tribune article refer to it.
[fn1] It has now become almost a game for my family to try to find tax-related stuff at national parks and other museums before I do.
[fn2] 1943 C.B. 1283.