Black History: Special Delivery!!
Willa Beatrice Brown was the first African American woman in the United States to earn a private pilot’s license in 1937. Many people know Bessie Coleman was the first African American woman to earn a pilot’s license. Coleman obtained her international pilot’s license in France in 1921. Willa Brown would be the first African American woman to gain her private pilot’s license in the United States.
Willa Brown was born in Glasgow, KY, in 1906. In 1927 she graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Indiana State Teachers College (now Indiana University). In 1937 she earned her Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Northwestern University. After teaching briefly, she moved to Chicago, IL to become a social worker. It was in Chicago that she made the decision to learn how to fly. Influenced by African American Aviatrix Bessie Coleman, she started her flight instruction in 1934 with John Robinson and Cornelius Coffey. In 1937, she became the first African American woman to earn a private pilot’s license. She and Cornelius Coffey later co-founded the Cornelius Coffey School of Aeronautics. It was the first black-owned and operated private flight training academy in the U.S.
In 1939, the Coffey School was awarded a contract by the U.S. government to train Americans to fly airplanes in case of a national emergency. Brown would later become the co-founder of the National Airmen’s Association of America. She was also a Challenger Air Pilot’s Association member and the Chicago Girls Flight Club. Brown purchased her own airplane. All of this occurred between 1939 – 1940. Hundreds were trained under Brown’s leadership. Many of the men she trained would later become Tuskegee Airmen. In 1941, Brown became the first African American Officer of the U.S. Civil Air Patrol (CAP). In 1946, she became the first African American woman to run for Congress. She lost the election to incumbent democrat William Levi Dawson. In 1955 at the age of 49, Brown married Rev. J.H. Chappell, a minister at West Side Community Church in Chicago. Willa Brown Chappell died in Chicago on July 18, 1992, at the age of 86.
Click here to read some of our earlier posts:
Celebrating Our Sisters: The Women Behind The Montgomery Bus Boycott
December 5, 1955 – 381 Day Economic Boycott Begins!
Jane Matilda Bolin: 1st Black Female Judge In The United States