Since there are so many facets of the history that people of African descent have made in this country, I’ve decided to continue my “Black History 365″ series from my poetry blog here on my AfrocentriqueAZ blog. I’ll be posting a new “First Black” every day this month and every Wednesday for the months after that.
In honor of WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH all March the articles will all be about first Black WOMEN… Today’s is Willa Beatrice Brown
As a young high school teacher in Gary, Indiana, and later as a social worker in Chicago, Willa Brown felt that her talents were not being used to their greatest use; she sought greater challenges and adventures in life, especially if they could be found outside the limited career fields normally open to African Americans.
She decided to learn to fly, studying with Cornelius R. Coffey, a certified flight instructor and expert aviation mechanic at one of Chicago’s racially segregated airports. She earned her private pilot’s license in 1938. Later, Brown and Coffey married and established the Coffey School of Aeronautics at Harlem Airport in Chicago, where they trained black pilots and aviation mechanics.
Together with Cornelius Coffey and Enoch P. Waters, Willa Brown helped form the National Airmen’s Association of America in 1939, whose main goal was to get black aviation cadets into the United States military. As the organization’s national secretary and the president of the Chicago branch, Brown became an activist for racial equality.
Brown became the coordinator for the CPTP in Chicago. Later, her flight school was also selected by the U.S. Army to provide black trainees for the Air Corps pilot training program at the Tuskegee Institute.
Willa Brown eventually became the coordinator of war-training service for the Civil Aeronautics Authority and later was a member of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Women’s Advisory Board. She was the first black female officer in the Civil Air Patrol and the first black woman to hold a commercial pilot’s license in the United States.
In 2010, Ms. Brown was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award by the Indiana State University Alumni Association.