Celebrating African Americans in Aviation
First All-Black Air Show in U.S. History Takes Place, 1931
Bessie Coleman, a pioneer aviatrix that paved the way for many black pilots, was an inspiration to many people, particularly with African-Americans, which became quickly evident following her death. A number of Bessie Coleman Aero Clubs were soon born, each bringing with it the encouragement and motivation that she inspired for others. On Labor Day, 1931, these clubs came together and sponsored the first all-black air show, which attracted approximately 15,000 spectators. That same year, a group of black pilots established an annual flyover of Coleman's grave in Lincoln Cemetery in Chicago.
African-Americans admitted into the Civilian Pilot Training Program
The Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) was a flight training program which ran from 1938-1944 and was sponsored by the United States government with the stated purpose of increasing the number of civilian pilots, though having a clear impact on military preparedness. While war was looking inevitable, the program was expanded to be included in schools and universities. The CPTP eventually operated at 1,132 colleges and universities and 1,460 flight schools, including the Tuskegee Institute, in 1939. The inclusion of Tuskegee Institute in the ranks of CPTP participants, along with Hampton Institute, Virginia State University, and Howard University, helped open the doors for the first African-American military pilots. The onset of World War II and political pressure combined to compel the U.S. Army Air Corps to employ African-Americans as officers and pilots\the majority were graduates of the CPTP.
National Airmen's Association of America, 1939
The National Airmen's Association of America (NAAA) was organized in Chicago in 1936 by a group of African American aviators and aviation enthusiasts. The founding members included many key figures in Chicago's black aviation community such as Cornelius R. Coffey, Dale L. White, Harold Hurd, Willa B. Brown, Marie St. Clair, Charles Johnson, Chauncey E. Spencer, Grover C. Nash, Edward H. Johnson, Janet Waterford, and George Williams. In the words of founding member Janet Waterford Bragg, the purpose of the NAAA "was to stimulate interest in aviation" and improve the knowledge of "the entire field of aeronautics for blacks." As the threat of war loomed in the late 1930s, the federal government began to expand opportunities for aviation training. NAAA leaders recognized that these new initiatives held great promise for expanding black participation in aviation, and in May 1939, they sponsored a cross-country flight to Washington, D.C., by two of their members, Chauncey Spencer and Dale White, to lobby for black participation in the new federally sponsored aviation training programs. The successful trip led to congressman Everett M. Dirksen's sponsoring of a nondiscrimination amendment to the act that established the CAA's Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP).
Executive Order 8802, 1941
Executive Order 8802, also known as the Fair Employment Act, was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 25, 1941 to prohibit racial discrimination in the national defense industry. It was the first federal action, though not a law, to promote equal opportunity and prohibit employment discrimination in the United States. The order required all federal agencies and departments involved with defense production to ensure that vocational and training programs were administered without discrimination as to "race, creed, color, or national origin."
Executive Order 9981, 1948
Executive Order 9981, which was signed by President Harry Truman in 1948 three years after the end of World War II, called for equal opportunity in the armed forces. The order established the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Forces. In the order it states, "that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin."
Then, in 1949, the U.S. Air Force became the first armed service to integrate its officers.
Air Force Integration
After President Truman signed Executive Order 9981, calling for integration in the military, the United States Air Force was the first to respond to that call. The Air Force had already been studying solutions to the problem of improving military efficiency. The objection of some Air Force leaders was met firmly by the new Secretary of the Air Force, W. Stuart Symington. Symington told the Air Force generals he expected no one to impede integration, and those who didn't agree with the policy should resign. As early as 1947, Secretary Symington was on record that blacks should be able to enter the Air Force on the basis of their merits and abilities rather than their race. Over the next few years after the signing of E.O. 9981, under his guidance the Air Force broke up black units and became the first service to complete integration.
First all-female African-American flight crew
Made up of Captain Rachelle Jones, first officer Stephanie Grant, and flight attendants Diana Galloway and Robin Rogers, the Atlanta-based Delta Connection carrier Atlantic Southeast Airlines flew the airline industry's first commercial jet flight operated by an all-female African-American crew on February 12, 2009. Flight 5202, a Bombardier CRJ700, departed Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International enroute to Nashville International; it returned with the same crew.