When Americans fell in love with aviation in the 1920s and 1930s, African Americans found their enthusiasm met with discrimination. In 1920 the legendary Bessie Coleman was forced to travel to France to learn to fly because no American flight schools would accept her. Ten years later, Janet Harmon Bragg and other black students at Chicago's Aeronautical University fought exclusion by organizing a club that built its own airport in a nearby all-black community. By 1934 Bragg had earned her private pilot's license ...
When Americans fell in love with aviation in the 1920s and 1930s, African Americans found their enthusiasm met with discrimination. In 1920 the legendary Bessie Coleman was forced to travel to France to learn to fly because no American flight schools would accept her. Ten years later, Janet Harmon Bragg and other black students at Chicago's Aeronautical University fought exclusion by organizing a club that built its own airport in a nearby all-black community. By 1934 Bragg had earned her private pilot's license and bought her first plane. By 1942 she had become the first African American woman to earn a full commercial pilot's license. In Soaring above Setbacks, Janet Harmon Bragg recalls a life of multifaceted achievement, in which every obstacle was seen as a surmountable challenge. A 1929 graduate of Spelman College with a degree in nursing, she not only became a pioneering aviator but also a successful businesswoman, running two nursing homes on Chicago's South Side. But her stiffest challenges and most remarkable accomplishments occurred in the sky. When the early federal Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) specifically excluded African Americans, she and other black pilots founded the National Airmen's Association of America in 1939, successfully challenging the whites-only rule. When she was rejected by the Women's Auxiliary Service Pilots because of her race, she enrolled in a program at Tuskegee Institute. And when, on completing it, an examiner who praised her skills said "I've never given a colored girl a commercial license and I don't intend to now," she returned to Chicago, where she immediately reapplied and passed.
Bragg (1907-1993), the youngest of seven children in a Georgia family, never forgot her father's stock phrase: "If Jack can do it, Jill can do it." On graduation from college with a degree in nursing, she was appalled at the treatment given black patients in Southern hospitals and so went north, finally settling in Chicago. It was there that she learned to fly in 1934, despite all manner of obstacles erected because of her race and gender. Five years later she aided in the founding of the National Airmen's Association of America, the first fliers' group to challenge the whites-only rule, she notes. Partly to finance her aeronautical career, she and her second husband went into the nursing-home business, where they worked until 1972. Meanwhile, her kindness to some Ethiopian exchange students led to an acquaintance with Emperor Haile Selassie. This is the story of a rich, full life. Photos not seen by PW. (Mar.)
School Library Journal
YAIn 1929, Janet Harmon Bragg earned a R.N. degree from Spelman Seminary. In her hometown of Griffin, GA, hospital conditions for blacks were so deplorable and job opportunities so limited that she moved to Chicago to become night supervisor at Wilson Hospital. While working full time, she continued to take medical and scientific courses that qualified her to become health inspector for an insurance company. Nursing and administrative skills are one part of Bragg's life; the other is her love for aviation. She was the first African American woman admitted to the Aeronautical University. In 1942, she was the first black woman to earn a commercial pilot's license. When her active flying days were over, she recognized a need to provide care for elderly, indigent blacks. Her kindness to Ethiopian students studying in the U.S. earned her an invitation to visit Ethiopia as a guest of the king. Throughout her life, Bragg faced racial prejudice, but refused to accept defeat and cheerfully forged new paths to success. This inspiring autobiography is lively and easy to read, and gives a real sense of Bragg's upbeat philosophy. Be sure to introduce it to YAs as well as to teachers, who will find it a fresh source for assignments on biography, civil rights, and U.S. aviation history.Judy Sokoll, Fairfax County Public Library, VA