Leopoldine Emma Doualla-Bell Smith (1939 – ) is recognized as being the world’s first black flight attendant. Born in the West African country of Cameroon, Smith was a princess in the royal Douala family. At the age of 17, Smith was offered the opportunity to serve as a “ground hostess” for the Union Aeromaritime de Transport (UAT), a french airline that served France’s African air routes. Smith graduated from high school in 1956 and then went to Paris for additional ground hostess and flight education training. She began her career as a flight attendant in 1957. Smith did not know, at the time, that she was making history, becoming the first black flight attendant for any airline in the world. She began her career one year prior to Ruth Carol Taylor who is recognized as the United States’ first black flight attendant in 1958. Smith recalled that her hiring as a flight attendant was big news in her hometown and that that it was announced in the local newspaper. On her first air flight, she recalled that she was screaming and yelling, thinking she might die, while another flight attendant attempted to calm her down.
Barrington Irving (1983 – ) developed an interest in flying through a chance encounter when a man in a flight uniform came into to the bookstore owned by his parents. The man asked Irving if he had ever considered a career in aviation. Initially, he told the man that he did not think he was smart enough to pursue such a career. However, the conversation did pique his interest and through this encounter he had the opportunity to sit inside a plane cockpit.
Irving was unable to afford flight lessons right away. So he saved his money and purchased a computer flight simulator game that he used for practice. He continued to save up money until he was able to afford private flight lessons. Irving obtained his pilot’s license at 19. By the time Irving was 21, he had already begin to think about the legacy he wanted to leave. He had lost many friends due to violence or prison and wanted his life to go in a different direction and have a positive impact. He decided that flying around the world would be something he could do to leave a positive legacy. He began to pursue this goal, but faced many challenges for almost 2.5 years. At a cost of $650,000, purchasing his own aircraft would have been impossible for Irving. He decided to approach companies and ask them to donate parts to help build the plane. Eventually he was able to secure all of the parts which were needed.
In 2007, his plane, “Inspiration” was finally ready. The plane had no radar, no de-icing system when he left Miami. His flight around the world would take 97 days and 27,000 miles to complete. Thousands awaited him when he returned to Miami on March 23, 2007. He was then, the youngest person ever to fly solo around the world. This record has since been broken by a 22 year old, Swiss pilot. Irving was struck by the number of young people who had followed his flight around the world. He used this inspiration to start his own non-profit, Experience Aviation. The non-profit serves students in Miami’s failing high schools to teach them about aviation and get students excited by STEM fields.
Check out this inspiring video and hear Barrington Irving’s talk about his flight around the world!
Did you miss our previous post? Click here to learn about, “The Book of Negroes” compiled by the British during the American Revolutionary War.