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Black Pioneers in Aviation

NATCA is proud to celebrate #BlackHistoryMonth by sharing stories of these trailblazers in aviation, who overcame incredible obstacles to achieve their high-flying dreams 


How Perry Young Broke Aviation’s Color Barrier

“For many years, Perry Young could be identified by his Chevy Blazer, which prominently displayed the words malgré tout on the bumper. The phrase means ‘in spite of it all’ in French, a language Young learned while flying small aircraft in Haiti during a time when no scheduled American passenger carrier would hire a black pilot. And in spite of it all, Young broke that barrier.”

Eleanor Williams: From Humble Beginnings to Making History in Air Traffic Control

“Looking back, she told ATO News that she always remembered the words of one her first instructors, a black man: ‘Eleanor, you can’t let them run you out of here.’ After that, she said, ‘It was pretty much like, bring it on. Never let ‘em see you cry and never let ‘em see you sweat.’”

Cornelius Coffey: The Other Harlem

At the Coffey School of Aeronautics in Illinois, some 350,000 hours of instructional flying were logged at the rough field, a number that represented a lot of realized dreams, both black and white.

Sandra Durbin: Overcoming Prejudice with Bravery and Grit

“They had said I was stupid, and they didn’t understand why they even allowed women in that part of the service. I proved them wrong.”


Siza Mzimela: A Black Woman Who Started an Airline

Siza Mzimela made history in 2015 by becoming the first black woman to start an airline. Mzimela, a South African entrepreneur, launched Fly Blue Crane in September 2015. The airline services cities in South Africa including Johannesburg, Bloemfontein, Kimberly, and Nelspruit.

James Herman Banning and Thomas Allen: Pioneering Black Airmen Who Flew Across America

“The 3,300-mile flight lasted just 41 hours and 37 minutes but had taken 21 days to complete—not much of an improvement on the first cross-country flight, two decades earlier. But little matter. African-American pilots had crossed the continent in the air, beyond the reach of race, outside the bounds of discrimination, over the barriers of segregation.”

Lt. Andrea Lewis Blazed Trail as Pilot in Georgia Air National Guard

“You could say that aviation and serving others is in my DNA. It is something I always knew I wanted to be a part of. After my father passed away, I knew it was time for me to take the steps needed to become a pilot and realize my dreams. I know it would have made my father proud.”

Bessie Coleman

“Bessie Coleman continues to inspire untold thousands even millions of young persons with her sense of adventure, her positive attitude, and her determination to succeed.”

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