Aviator Willa Brown (shown in her padded flight suit) was a fervent promoter of the cause of black aviation.
||Biographical Passage about Willa Brown
During the past three years I have devoted full time to aviation,
and for the most part marked progress has been made. I have, however,
encountered several difficultiesseveral of them I have handled
and some have been far too great for me to master.
Brown, in a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, December 6, 1941
Seeking advance publicity for a black air show,
Willa Brown talked with Enoch Waters, the city editor of the Chicago
Defender, an influential black owned and operated newspaper.
Mr. Waterss account of her visit and the subsequent air show
were reported to Defender readers as follows.
WILLA BROWN VISITS THE CHICAGO DEFENDER
When Willa Brown, a young woman wearing white jodhpurs, jacket
and boots, strode into our newsroom in 1936, she made such a stunning
appearance that all the typewriters, which had been clacking noisily,
suddenly went silent. Unlike most first-time visitors, she wasnt
at all bewildered. She had a confident bearing and there was an undercurrent
of determination in her voice.
I want to speak to Mr. Enoch Waters, she said. I
wasnt unhappy at the prospect of discovering who she was and
what she wanted. I had an idea she was a model representing a new
commercial product that she had been hired to promote. Im
Willa Brown, she informed me, seating herself without being
In a businesslike manner she explained that
she was an aviatrix and wanted some publicity for a Negro air show
at Harlem Airport on the citys southwest side. Except for the
colorful Colonel Hubert Fauntleroy Julian, who called
himself the Black Eagle and who had gained lots of publicity
for his exploits, and Colonel John Robinson, a Chicago
flyer who was in Ethiopia heading up Haile Selassies air force,
I was unaware of any other Negro aviators, particularly in Chicago.
There are about thirty of us,
she informed me, both men and women. Most were students,
she added, but several had obtained their licenses and one, Cornelius
Coffey, was an expert aviation and engine mechanic who also held a
commercial pilots license and was a certified flight instructor.
He was the leader of the group. She informed me that she held a limited
commercial pilots license.
Fascinated by both her and the idea of Negro
aviators, I decided to follow up the story myself. Accompanied by
a photographer, I covered the air show. About 200 or 300 other spectators
attended, attracted by the story in the Defender.
So happy was Willa over our appearance that she offered to take me
up for a free ride. She was piloting a Piper Cub, which seemed to
me, accustomed as I was to commercial planes, to be a rather frail
craft. It was a thrilling experience, and the maneuversfigure
eights, flip-overs and stallswere exhilarating, though momentarily
frightening. I wasnt convinced of her competence until we landed