Let’s Celebrate Marlon Green, Ruth Carol Taylor, and Other Pioneering Black People in Commercial Aviation

It’s Martin Luther King Jr Day, so I thought it might be a good time to honor some of the pioneering figures in American commercial aviation. Though Jackie Robinson’s baseball debut in the major leagues is more well-known, there were plenty of black people in the US who fought the same prejudice in commercial aviation.

Perry Young was the only black person hired to fly commercially in the US prior to the 1960s. After trying to get on with the airlines, he had to settle for helicopter flying. He was hired by New York Airways in 1957.

Ruth Carol Taylor was the first black woman hired as a flight attendant in 1957. (Her first flight was in 1958.) She flew for Mohawk Airlines, though she soon ran into other problems when she faced a marriage ban that was in effect for flight Marlon Greenattendants at the time. Though her career was short-lived, TWA soon began hiring black flight attendants and others followed.

Marlon Green (left) was a former Air Force pilot who applied to fly for Continental in 1957 and became the first black pilot hired by a major US airline six years later. He was only given an interview because he didn’t check the box noting that he was, in fact, black. It wasn’t until 1963 that he was finally hired by Continental after they were effectively forced to do so by a US Supreme Court decision. That made him the first black person to be hired as a pilot for a major US airline. He didn’t fly until 1965, but then he flew for 14 years before retiring in 1978. He died last July at the age of 80.

David Harris also holds a place in history. He was actually the first black pilot to fly for a major US airline (while Marlon Green continued to fight). David first flew for American in 1964 and had a 30 year career before retiring in 1994.

Just because these were some of the first black people to fly in the US doesn’t mean they were the only ones to face discrimination. So today, let’s think about everything that these and other black people who aspired to work for the airlines only 50 years ago had to face.

12 Responses to Let’s Celebrate Marlon Green, Ruth Carol Taylor, and Other Pioneering Black People in Commercial Aviation

  1. James Williams says:

    Great post. Marlon Green and David Harris’s accomplishments are made for a trick Jeopardy question.

  2. ASFalcon13 says:

    Although not necessarily related to commercial aviation, I’d like to give a mention to Bessie Coleman as well. In 1921, “Queen Bess” was the first African American to become a licensed pilot.

  3. Allan says:

    Fantastic post Cranky!

  4. Great post! Thanks for highlighting these pioneers. The Smithsonian’s “America By Air” exhibit also did a good job of discussing how racial politics affected commercial aviation, including segregation in airports.

    Happy MLK Day!

  5. enplaned says:

    It’s sobering to think of the waste of human potential over the years (and consequent retardation of our collective advancement) due to the human tendency to focus on characteristics (religion, skin tone, national origin, sexual orientation, etc etc etc) that have nothing to do with ability to do the damn job.

  6. AirlineWONK says:

    When we STOP writing articles about people just because they have certain characteristics (religion, skin tone, national origin, sexual orientation, etc etc etc), then we will have attained true equality.

  7. Stephen says:

    Thank you for a stirring post. These pioneers should be revered as much as those who first flew.

  8. Bruce says:

    Wonderful post, Cranky! I knew the Marlon Green family while growing up in Denver in the ’60s. His struggle to be hired by CO was well-publicized in the local media. Our home was directly under the final approach ro runways 8L & 8R at good ole Stapleton. I would regularly ride my bike out to the airport boundary at the runway threshold for the thrill of those Viscounts, Convairs, Electras, 707s, DC-8s, & 727s screaming in flaps down on short final just a few feet overhead! Imagine my unbridled excitement when a UA pilot actually showed up at our house to talk to me after I had scrawled out a letter to UA headquarters requesting airplane pics and info – hence began my lifelong obsession w/commercial aviation. My very 1st flight was circa ’64 on a UA DC-8 DEN-ORD – I’ll never forget the french toast breakfast that was served on board. Very few people of color traveled by air back then. As an adult, I later worked for (the orginal) Frontier, Eastern, and I ended my airline career after many years with American. Thanks Marlon and Ruth and Perry and David and all the others for your persistence and fortitude in breaking down those barriers for the rest of us!

  9. myriamparis says:

    Good point, emplaned, and nicely stated.

    This was a fascinating read for me as I had NO IDEA of how bad it was for black pilots trying to get hired. I mean, I could have guessed I suppose, but this post made me more vividly aware of the struggles our fellow citizens had to go through for so very long (and still do), for no logical reason. I appreciate you writing this, cranky, thanks.

    Imagine having the tenacity to keep fighting for that job, even through a long and grueling court battle… knowing how bad it would be for you even once you landed the job (most likely facing daily discrimination on the line itself) and yet pushing for it anyway, for the good of those that followed. These are true heroes.

  10. irvdawg says:

    In 1970 I was an instrument simuation teachers aide at the College of San Mateo. One of the simulation students was Perry Young. He had just left NY Airways to take a job with the FAA as a check airman. (Convairs 580′s and Electra’s). I asked him why he didn’t have an instrument rating and he said “The only instruments the helicopers had were a pair of Mark 2 eyeballs”. At the time I was totally unaware of the battles he faced to become an airline pilot.

  11. Bruce E. Gipson says:

    …from today’s (2/4/10) edition of The Denver Post re Continental Airlines naming a new 737-800 in honor of Marlon Green:
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    http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_14328966
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