The Heyday of Propeller Airliners(1941-1958)

Charles Diggs

"All of these incidents I witnessed with my own eyes."

-Charles C. Diggs Jr.

Air Travel and Segregation

Air Travel and Segregation
Moorland-Springarn Research Center, Howard University

African Americans could choose to fly, but few did. Many airport facilities were segregated and discrimination was widespread.

Few members of minority groups flew before World War II. But as the economy rapidly expanded and the number of minority-owned businesses increased, more people of color began to fly. In doing so they often encountered discrimination.
While the airlines were not legally segregated, airports often were. Throughout the South, inferior airport accommodations discouraged African Americans from flying. Until the Civil Rights movement began to bring about change, air travel remained mostly for whites.

National Airport Exterior
Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority

Efforts to desegregate airports began as early as 1948. Rep. Charles C. Diggs Jr. of Michigan supported a bill in Congress to desegregate federally owned Washington National Airport. The bill did not pass, but it encouraged others to take action. In December 1948, after a direct appeal to President Truman by a member of his Committee on Civil Rights, National Airport's restaurant was finally desegregated. Slowly during the 1950s and '60s, the rest of the segregated airports followed suit after succumbing to legal and political pressure.

Continental Letter
Moorland-Springarn Research Center, Howard University

Separate but Senseless

Congressman Charles C. Diggs Jr. of Michigan disliked how African Americans were treated at airports throughout the South. He led a campaign to change this by writing to the presidents of the major airlines to ask for their support. Read about his experience as an African American traveling by plane in the 1950s.


Airlines did not allow African Americans to fly their aircraft or work aboard them as flight crew. Throughout the country, these jobs were restricted to whites only until the 1960s. The exceptions were Perry H. Young Jr., who first flew helicopters for New York Airways in 1956, and Ruth Carol Taylor, who first served as a stewardess for Mohawk Airlines in 1958.

Marlon Green
Courtesy Green Family

The color barrier within the major airlines was finally broken in 1965, when Marlon D. Green won a suit against Continental Airlines to become a pilot. His victory opened commercial aviation to all Americans.