A Woman to Know: Willa Brown Chappell

She had been training black pilots since the late 1930s ... She was very prominent in the field. — Walter Hill, Jr.

(image via Wikimedia Commons)

When she first began taking flight classes in 1936, Willa Brown knew she had a busy decade ahead of her. The next 10 years saw a world war, the integration of the military, an increase in national energy around civil and gender rights — and amid those events, Willa was netting achievement after achievement of her own.

In 1937, she became the first African American woman to earn her pilots license in the United States (pioneer Bessie Coleman had had to jump through multiple hoops — and French classes — to get her own pilots license overseas). In 1941, Willa was the first African American officer admitted to the Civil Air Patrol. In 1942, she founded an air school to train other African Americans to fly, including future squads of Tuskegee Airmen. In 1943, she became the first American woman to hold both a pilots license and an air mechanic license. In 1946, she ran for Congress, the first African American woman to do so.

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