Distinguished Women of Past and Present

First Page Name Index Subject Index Related Sites Search

Willa B. Brown

(1906-1992 )

The first African-American woman to get a commercial pilot's license, Willa B. Brown was born January 21, 1906 in Glasgow, Kentucky, U.S.A. She received her bachelor's degree in 1927 at Indiana State Teacher's College. For a while she taught school in Gary, Indiana and then, in 1932, after having divorced her husband and changing her mind about teaching, she moved to Chicago, Illinois.

Influenced by the aviatrix Bessie Coleman, Willa Brown started taking flying lessons in 1934. Soon she became a member of the flying club, the Challenger Air Pilot's Association, and the Chicago Girls Flight Club. She also purchased her own airplane. In 1937 she received her pilot's license and that same year, she received a master's degree from Northwestern University.

Also in 1937, she co-founded the National Airmen's Association of America with her flight instructor, Cornelius R. Coffey. The Association's goal was to promote African-American aviation. In 1938, they started the Coffey School of Aeronautics, where approximately two hundred pilots were trained in the next seven years. Some of those pilots later became part of the 99th Pursuit Squadron at Tuskegee Institute, also known as the "Tuskegee Airmen".

Brown lobbied Washington for inclusion of African-Americans in the Civilian Pilot Training Program and in the Army Air Corps, and, in 1941, she became a training coordinator for the Civil Aeronautics Administration and a teacher in the Civilian Pilot Training Program. The following year, she became the first African-American member of the Civil Air Patrol. She also promoted aviation on the radio and taught it in high schools. In 1972, Brown became a member of the Women's Advisory Committee on Aviation in the Federal Aviation Agency.

Willa B. Brown died July 18, 1992.

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1997.

Bibliography:
The Book of African-American Women: 150 Crusaders, Creators, and Uplifters by Tonya Bolden, Adams Media Corporation, 1996

First Page Name Index Subject Index Related Sites Search