While Bessie Coleman never realized her dream of opening a flight school for African American pilots, her legacy as the first African American woman to earn a pilot’s license has impacted and inspired flight students for decades.
As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, many members of the United States military are stationed overseas, far from home. In November 1956, Brig. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. and his wife Agatha sat down to a Thanksgiving turkey in Taipei, Taiwan, provided by an unusual source—the Vice President of the Republic of China (Taiwan).
In 1939, Dale L. White Sr., a prominent African American pilot, set out on a "Goodwill Flight" from Chicago to Washington, DC, to make the case for African American participation in flight training, both civilian and military. His flight illustrated the challenges that African Americans faced in reaching equality—White was welcomed in Sherwood, Ohio, but was not permitted to land in Morgantown, West Virginia. Nearly 10 years later In 1948, President Truman integrated the armed services by presidential order.
On this day in 1957, Perry Young Jr. became the first African American pilot to fly a regularly scheduled passenger route for a U.S. airline. The press and community leaders hailed the flight as a significant step forward on the path to desegregation. For Young, it marked a professional milestone after years of persistence in the face of discrimination.
When African American pilot, engineer, and entrepreneur William Powell was a young adult, even the skies were segregated. Many would-be African American pilots, such as first licensed African American pilot Bessie Coleman, were forced to go to France for pilot training and licenses issued by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. According to a June 12, 2012 article in the online publication, Air Facts, in 1934 there were only 12 African Americans out of 18,041 pilots in the U.S., and out of 8,651 licensed mechanics, just two were African Americans. Airlines wouldn’t even allow African Americans as passengers.