||Can't Keep Us Down
In 1921 Bessie Coleman was a manicurist in Chicago who dreamed
of becoming a pilot. She was unable to find an instructor
who would teach her to fly in the United States. So she learned
French and went to France where she earned an international
pilot's license. She was the first African American-man or
woman-to do so. The Chicago Defender, a widely circulated
black-owned newspaper, used this political cartoon "Keep
Us Flying" to showcase how one young woman overcame racial
discrimination in America and pointed to Bessie Coleman as
a role model for her race.
||The Flying Ace
Hollywood in the 1920s excluded African Americans from major
film roles. This movie poster of The Flying Ace, a
film produced by a small black-owned company, depicted African
Americans as successful and glamorous pilots in order to portray
blacks as stars in a positive manner.
||Colored Air Circus
This 1931 photo shows Hubert Julianpilot, showman, and promoter of black aviationpointing to a billboard announcing his appearance in a "Colored Air Circus" in Los Angeles. Air shows or "air circuses" were popular aviation events in the 1920s and 1930s. African Americans had to organize their own air shows because of racial discrimination. Most air shows included low-cost flights for spectators, most of whom had never ridden in a plane or even seen a plane up close. Air circuses helped remove obstacles by introducing planes and flying to African Americans and by demonstrating that black people could be accomplished pilots.
||One Million Jobs
William S. Powell, a successful African American businessman
from Chicago, moved to Los Angeles to learn to fly. There,
he promoted of black involvement in aviation by organizing
a flying club, air shows and even writing a book entitled
Black Wings. He published Craftsman Aero News
in the 1930s, and this advertisement from his publication
confidently forecast "one million jobs" in aviation for his
||Banning and Allen 1932 Flight
This photograph shows James Banning and Thomas Allen who completed the first transcontinental flight by black aviators in 1932. Their flight was significant because it set a new speed record and showed that African Americans had the aptitude for long distance flying.
||Joe Louis and Bessie Coleman Aero Club
This photo illustrates the ability of William J. Powell to
enlist the support of celebrities such as Joe Louis, the famous
heavyweight champion boxer, to help him promote Bessie Coleman
aviation training schools in black communities and encourage
African Americans to enter the field of aviation.
This flyer is a detailed and organized plan to establish broad-based support for Charles Anderson (a licensed commercial pilot and instructor) and Albert Forsythe (a prominent African American dentist) in their campaign to finance a promotional cross-country flight in 1933. Anderson and Forsythe went on to conduct a highly successful "Goodwill Flight" to the Caribbean.
||Willa Brown Letter to Eleanor Roosevelt
This letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, the politically active First Lady, is from Willa Brown, an African American pilot. Willa Brown and her husband Cornelius Coffey had opened a flying school outside of Chicago for African Americans. They competed for and finally secured the first government grant from the Civilian Pilot Training Program to train African American men and women to fly. Brown's letter to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt illustrates a clever strategy to secure support from a top political figure. Mrs. Roosevelt was known to help advance civil rights during the administration of her husband Franklin D. Roosevelt.
||Gilbert Cargill Letter
This letter that Gilbert Cargill wrote in 1942 to William
Hastie, an African American civilian aide in the War Department, is an example of the frustration felt by most blacks in being
denied an opportunity to serve their country in World War
II. Mr. Cargill was expressing his concerns to the person
appointed by the Roosevelt administration to represent their
interests. The number of black servicemen who served in World
War II increased as a result of the efforts of many African
||Pittsburgh Courier "Double V" Campaign
This is an account of the campaign launched in 1942 by the
Pittsburgh Courier, a leading African American newspaper
for more than half of the 20th century. It addresses the conflicts
faced by African Americans: they wished to support their country
in time of war, but they experienced crippling racial discrimination
at home and in the armed services. They conducted a highly
publicized campaign involving posters, buttons, and photos
of prominent people including (classical singer) Marian Anderson
who agreed to be advocates for the cause of racial justice.
||Keep Us Flying
In 1942 the Office of War Information issued this poster of
Howard Dietz, a Tuskegee Airman, to highlight African American
pilots who were defending America in World War II. The poster
was also an appeal to African American civilians to support
the war effort by buying war bonds.
||United We Win
African Americans were initially denied employment in World War II defense factories, except as janitors. A. Philip Randolph, a black leader and president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, announced a march to protest employment discrimination for July 1, 1941. On June 25, 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 which finally opened up responsible and technical wartime defense plant jobs to black civilians. The Office of War Information issued this poster to promote the need for all Americans, regardless of race, to work together in order to win the war.