Learning from African American Aviation History

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Aviation has benefitted from African Americans

A list of those who advanced aerospace and who were/are Black

Churchill says History needs be learned

February is African American History Month. The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in paying tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society. The early African American aviators achieved much through their own hard work, frequently encountering deterring obstacles. But they made it and as Churchill reminds us, knowing history has value.

Here are some resources:

African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space

NASM African American History bannerr

Katherine Johnson NASA

NASM notables

She Had a Dream: Mae C. Jemison, First African American Woman in Space

African American Pioneer Dale White and the 1939 Goodwill Flight


Vance Marchbanks’ Contribution to Public Health Policy on Sickle Cell Disease


Neal V. Loving: Pilot, Engineer, Aircraft Designer

Link to their stories

Black History Month—Past & Present Aviation Achievers

Black History Month


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Thanks to The Port Arthur News for bringing to our attention to Kelvin Solco and reminding us of Black History Month.

FAA Solco

Mr. Solco was recruited by the FAA when he was an engineering student at Prairie View A&M. From that inception point and for 34 years thereafter, he has used his highly valued technical skills to move up that organization’s career ladder. He also earned his MBA at LeTourneau University. Kelvin worked in several FAA offices as a resident engineer, design engineer, program manager, a Regional Associate Program Manager for Navigation and Landing Facilities. Kelvin served as the assistant Airports Division Manager in the Southern Regional Office in Atlanta, Georgia from June 2002 to April 2005, before becoming the Southwest Region Division Manager in Fort Worth, Texas in 2005.

Since 2014 he has been the top official for the FAA in a large five state area with 4,600 employees. As regional administrator, he works closely with representatives of the aviation industry, various federal, state and local government agencies and civic and private interest groups. He directs delivery of corporate services through the region including command and communication operations, building and facility services, executive services and cross-organizational project integration. That’s a managerial position which places greater emphasis of his interpersonal skills than his quantitative acumen; his elevation to that position recognizes his personal growth.

His appearance in his home town was an event for a Black History month.

NASM Black Wings

The 2012 movie, Red Tails, made the story of the Tuskegee Airman and the role of Black airmen more visible. The National Air & Space Museum’s Black Wings exhibit presents a comprehensive and unburnished history of early pilots to today’s African American aviators. The stories of Bessie ColemanBenjamin O. Davis Jr.Mae C. JemisonCharles Bolden and others are part of this legacy about which all in aviation should be proud.


One of these prestigious Tuskegee pilots was eventually employed by the FAAWilliam Broadwater rose through the air traffic control service and retired in 1980 at a Senior Executive Service employee level (the highest within the career grading levels). The word “eventually” was carefully selected to be a predicate to this story quoted in the Washington Post obituary:

Bill Broadwater

“’He took a [written] test for one of the major airlines, and he got the highest grade on the test,’ his son, William Broadwater Jr., said. ‘He never got any kind of call in response, so he contacted the airline. They said there was a problem, so they had him take the test again. That time, he got the second-highest grade.’

A company representative visited Mr. Broadwater at home.

‘He said the company could never hire a black pilot because . . . no one would fly if they knew there was a black pilot,’ Mr. Broadwater’s son said. ‘My dad told him, half jokingly, that they would never have to know because he would just stay in the cockpit. The guy from the airline didn’t think that was funny.’

‘We knew we were as smart as anybody else, as capable as anybody else and deserved to be treated the same as anybody else,’ Mr. Broadwater once said.”

This example demonstrates the barriers which had to overcome and the perseverance needed to succeed as a Black man, even a heralded hero in the post WWII era.

recent FAA employees

Within the FAA Black employees have attained some of the highest positions—Quentin Taylor, who was the Deputy Administrator, Benjamin Demps, who headed the FAA Mike Monroney Center and Leon Watkins, a very influential Director of the Civil Office. All provide great role models for all career employees of the FAA.

Current minorities working in this aviation safety organization can look in addition to Mr. Solco  to Edward L. Bolton Jr. who has one of the most, if not THE, challenging jobs there today, the Assistant Administrator for NextGen at the Federal Aviation Administration.

The achievements of African Americans to aviation are chronicled in history books and are furthered by today’s leadership. Thanks to The Port Arthur News and Mr. Solco for adding to our awareness of this important month of remembrance and recognition.


GiGi Coleman Performance Demo

First African-American Aviatrix

Willa Brown poster

A woman of many feats, Willa Brown was first African-American to earn a pilot license

Michael Eli Dokosi | Staff Writer

Michael Eli Dokosi

Willa Beatrice Brown was the first African-American woman to earn a pilot license (1938) and a commercial license (1939) in the United States. She was one of a small group of pre-World War II black women aviators.

She was also an aviator, lobbyist, teacher and civil rights activist. Brown became the first African-American woman to run for the United States Congress, the first African-American officer in the US Civil Air Patrol, and the first woman in the United States to have a pilot’s license and a mechanic’s licenseBrown

Aviation however wasn’t always part of Brown’s life. She briefly taught at the Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana before moving to Chicago, Illinois to become a social worker. Landing in Chicago, she decided to learn how to fly. In 1934, Brown began her flight instruction under the direction of John Robinson and Cornelius Coffey. She also studied at the Curtiss Wright. In 1937, Brown became the first African-American woman in the U.S. to earn a commercial pilot’s licenseTwo years later she married her former flight instructor, Cornelius Coffey, and they co-founded the Cornelius Coffey School of Aeronautics, the first black-owned and operated private flight training academy in the U.S.

training academy

The fortune and esteem of the Coffey school was bolstered in 1939 when the Federal Government awarded them a contract to train Americans to fly airplanes in case of a national emergency. Later that year, Brown became a co-founder of the National Airmen’s Association of America. She also joined the Challenger Air Pilot’s Association, the Chicago Girls Flight Club while she purchased her own airplane all between 1939 and 1940.Willa Brown




                                                                      TUSKEGEE Airmen and teacher Willa Brown

Even the men who came to be known as the Tuskegee Airmen had trained under Brown. She was also the director/coordinator of two Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) programs: one at the Harlem Airport and the other at Wendell Phillips High School in Chicago.

Brown achieved another distinction in 1941 when she became the first African-American officer in the U.S. Civil Air Patrol (CAP); she was commissioned a Lieutenant. The U.S. government also named her federal coordinator of the CAP Chicago unit.

CAP Chicago

In 1946, Brown became the first African American woman to run for Congress on the Republican ticket although she lost to the Democrat incumbent, William Levi Dawson. She run two other times in 1948 and 1950 as well.

After the Coffey School closed in 1945, Brown remained politically and socially active in Chicago. She organized flight schools for children and taught in the Chicago Public School System until 1971, when she retired at the age of 65.

She supported various causes throughout her political career, including the racial and gender integration of the U.S. Army Air Corps.

listIn 1955, Brown, now 49, married Rev. J.H. Chappell, the minister of the West Side Community Church in Chicago. In 1972, in recognition of her contributions to aviation in the United States as a pilot, an instructor, and an activist, Ms. Brown-Chappell was appointed to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Women’s Advisory Board.[1] Willa B. Brown-Chappell died on July 18, 1992 at the age of 86 in Chicago.


Brown was born in Glasgow, Kentucky on January 22, 1906 to Reverend and Mrs. Erice B. Brown. She graduated from Wiley High School in Terra Haute, Indiana earning her Bachelor’s degree from the Indiana State Teachers College (now Indiana State University) in 1927. Ten years later, she earned a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Northwestern University.








DOT list of Women in Aviation conferees





black pilots at Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois to plan a flyover of Bessie Coleman’s grave

Formal posed portrait of black pilots at Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois to plan a flyover of Bessie Coleman’s grave. 1st row (L to R): Stanton DePriest, Marie Joyner, Rev. J.C. Austin, D.W. Williams, unidentified, 2nd row : Lola Jones, Willa Brown, Janet Waterford (Bragg), Dorothy Tanner, Mrs. Earl Renfroe. 3rd row: Cornelius Coffey, Dr. Earl Renfroe, Maj. Fisher, Robert Jones, Dale White. 4th row: Chas. Johnson, Harold Hurd, Wm. Cosby, Edw. Jones, Jas. Rainey, Walter Evans. 5th row: Albert Cox, Edw. Anderson, Joe Muldrow, Wm. P. McFarland, Clyde Hampton, Edw. McFarland. Inset in the top right corner is a head  and shoulders portrait of Bessie Coleman, and images of aircraft are inset across the top. Dates to May 26, 1935.

African American History and Culture Museum poster


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1 Comment on "Learning from African American Aviation History"

  1. I think there was another Tuskegee airman in AT but his name escapes me. I think Stan….it’ll come to me.

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