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 attendants 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.