Pic of Willa Brown (top).  Brown is seated in the open cockpit of an airplane.  She has goggles on with a white aviator cap and is smiling.  Janet Harmon-Bragg (bottom) has on a dark colored aviator cap and is smiling.  To the right of the photos it says, "Willa Brown and Janet Harmon Bragg were aviation trailblazers who helped advance the entrance of Black Americans into the field of aviation. "

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Following in the footsteps of famed aviator Bessie Coleman, Willa Brown (1906-1992) and Janet Harmon-Bragg (1907-1993) were instrumental in advancing the entrance of African-Americans into the aviation field. Brown was the first black woman to receive a commercial pilot’s license in the U.S. Janet Harmon Bragg was the first Black woman to receive a pilot’s license in the United States. Willa Brown obtained her pilot’s license in 1938. Born in Kentucky, she graduated from high school in Terra Haute, Indiana. Brown then attended Indiana State Teachers College. She worked as a teacher in Indiana before taking a job in Chicago as a social worker. During this time, she developed an interest in flying, earning her pilot’s license that same year. Brown continued with her education, earning an MBA from Northwestern University. 

Brown used her passion and business acumen as co-founder of the Coffey School of Aeronautics. She launched the school with her husband, Cornelius Coffey, who was also a pilot. It was the first black-owned and operated private flight academy in the United States. The school received funding in 1939 to begin training pilots for the Civilian Pilot Training Program. Brown would become the first Black officer in the Civilian Air Patrol in 1941. She taught hundreds of people as an instructor, with many male students becoming part of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen was a primarily Black military aviation unit that served during World War II. Brown was also a staunch advocate for racial integration within the United States military. She for congress in 1946 and was the first Black woman to do so. She did not win the election. Brown died in 1992 in Chicago at the age of 86.

Continue reading “Willa Brown and Janet Harmon-Bragg:  Black Female Aviators Following In the Footsteps of Bessie Coleman”