Black History: Special Delivery!!
Oscar Holmes, Jr (1916-2001) served as the first commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy. He was also the Navy’s first black aircraft pilot and the first black air traffic controller. Holmes graduated from West Virginia State College and then received a master’s degree in chemistry from Ohio State University in 1939. He taught Chemistry from 1937-1940 at Claflin College. His teaching pay was very low. In 1940, he accepted employment as a water and fuel analyst at Erie Lighting Company.
While working there he applied and was selected to participate in the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP). CPTP was a U.S. government sponsored program that offered flight training. Holmes passed the entrance exam and went on to earn his pilot’s license in 1941. Later that same year he completed air traffic controller training. Holmes had a very light complexion and was believed to be white. It was not until he applied for a promotion and self-disclosed his race that was discovered that he was black. This new discovery of course came with racial discrimination.
Disenchanted with the CPTP because he was denied a promotion, Holmes decided to enter the U.S. Navy in 1942. He already had the qualifications to be a commissioned officer. He was given this rank before the Navy discovered that he was black. At that time, the U.S. Navy did not allow blacks to be officers. Blacks would not be appointed as officers until 1949. Holmes completed flight instructor training with the Navy. But once it was discovered that he was black, he was not given a flight instructor position. Instead, he was assigned to a Navy personnel office in New York and was responsible for screening prospective aviation cadets.
Despite being black, and the Navy’s position at that time of prohibiting the appointment of black officers, Holmes was promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG) in 1944. He then went to a Naval Air Station in Dallas, TX to fly trainer plans to bases across the United States. Later, he went on to join the Navy Air Ferrying Squad working in Dallas and California. Towards the end of WW II, he was appointed as a lead pilot for group flights.
Holmes was released from active duty in 1946. His discharge paper listed him as white. He continued to further his education; this time earning two law degrees from Brooklyn Law school in 1954 and 1955 respectively. Holmes would spend the rest of his life working for the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington, DC and New York City. He retired for the FAA in 1973. Holmes died in 2001.
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