Wednesday, February 1, 2012

First African-American woman to earn commercial pilot's license challenged racism head-on

From the Official Air Force Website: First African-American woman to earn commercial pilot's license challenged racism head-on
2/9/2012 - FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (AFNS) -- A Chicago registered nurse would go on to become the first African-American female to hold a commercial pilot's license.

Janet Bragg was born in March of 1907 in Griffin, Ga., and after graduation from an Episcopal school, attended college at Spelman Seminary in Atlanta where she earned a registered nursing degree in 1929.

After obtaining a nursing position at Wilson Hospital in Chicago, Bragg decided in 1933 to attend the Aeronautical University ground school, where she learned the basics in meteorology, aeronautics and aircraft maintenance. But, because the school had no airplane, there was no type of flight training available.

Bragg decided to change all of that. Making the decision that it would be cheaper to buy a plane, rather than rent one, she bought her first plane for $600 - one of three that she would eventually purchase. Next came the issue of an airport to use for the training. Because black pilots were not allowed to fly out of airfields used by white pilots, Bragg decided that if black pilots were going to fly, she would need to set up her own airfield. With the help of her instructors at the Aeronautical University, Bragg created the Challenger Aero Club and together they purchased land and built an airfield in the all-black community of Robbins, Ill.

In the spring of 1934, after amassing 35 solo hours, Bragg passed the test for her private pilot's license. She continued her interest in aviation, writing a weekly column in the all African-American newspaper, the Chicago Defender, called "Negro Aviation," and continued to generate an interest in flying for the Chicago area African-American community.

In 1943 Bragg, and several other African-American female pilots, applied for duty with the Women Auxiliary Service Pilots (WASPs) to do their part during World War II. But again they were rejected because of their race. She attended instead the Civilian Pilot Training Program flight school at Tuskegee, Alabama, intending to obtain a commercial pilot's license. She successfully completed the course work and flight tests, but was prevented from receiving her license by a bigoted instructor.

Not to be deterred, she went to Chicago, where she passed the examination and earned the first commercial pilot's license ever issued to a black woman.

Bragg, along with her brother, decided to go into the nursing home business and successfully owned and operated several nursing homes into the 1970s. She passed away in Blue Island, Ill., near Chicago, in 1993 at the age of 86.

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