Black History Month | Legends in Aviation

February is Black History Month, a time to learn about and celebrate the Black community’s contributions to our country. This month we will highlight Black pioneers in aviation and also share stories from within our CommutAir family.

Let’s take a look at three Black aviators who paved a path for future generations.

 

Patrice Clarke-Washington 

Patrice Clarke-Washington was a UPS pilot and the first Black woman to be a captain for a major airline. Born and raised in The Bahamas, she enrolled at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University of Daytona Beach in 1979. She was the only Black student in her class, and she was the first Black woman in the school’s history to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical sciences and her commercial pilot’s license.

She was hired by UPS in 1988 as a flight engineer and became the first Black female captain of a major air carrier in the US in 1994. In 1995, Patrice helped start the Bessie Coleman Aerospace Legacy. Named for the first licensed Black female pilot, the foundation preserves Coleman’s legacy and promotes aviation among Black men and women.

 

 

 

 

David Harris

Harris joined the Air Force in 1958 where he flew the B-47 and B-52. In 1964, he interviewed with American Airlines and got the job, becoming the first Black pilot at a major airline. Harris would also go on to become the first Black pilot to be promoted to captain at a major U.S. airline. He flew for American for 30 years before retiring in 1994.

 

 

 

 

 

Marlon Green

In 1957, Marlon Green, an Air Force pilot, applied to be a Continental Airlines pilot. Green had applied to other airlines but was rejected each time. When he filled out his application for Continental, he left the “race” box unchecked. Green made it to the final round of interviews but was not hired, even though he had more flight time than the other candidates who were white.

Green filed a complaint with the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Commission, which found Continental at fault and ordered them to put him in their next training class. The airline refused and the case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in Green’s favor in 1963, six years after he first applied to Continental. After the drawn-out court battle, he began his 14-year career with Continental in 1965.

While David Harris was the first Black pilot hired with a major airline, Marlon Green’s fight for the right to be in the flight deck cleared a path for generations of Black pilots to come. In 2010, Continental dedicated a 737 named for Captain Marlon Green. The aircraft, N77518, still flies for United today.