Willa Brown: Pioneer for Female & African American Aviation

Willa Brown: Pioneer for Female & African American Aviation

Civil Air Patrol

Lt. Col. Carlos Montague, MDWG Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Officer
Maryland Wing

Willa Beatrice Brown, a 31-year-old Negro American, serves her country by training pilots for the U.S. Army Air Forces.” – NARA – 535717 (circa 1941-1945)

CAP recognizes Women’s History Month with a profile of aviator and civil rights pioneer Willa Brown.

There are many pioneering names in African American aviation. Figures like Eugene Bullard, Bessie Coleman, Charles Alfred Anderson, John Forsythe, Thomas Allen, Janet Harmon Bragg and Herman Banning all set out against the odds of social and racial injustice, to achieve excellence.

And then there’s Willa Beatrice Brown Chappell, a pioneer for both women’s equality and civil rights.

Brown was born in Glasgow, Kentucky, in 1906 to a biracial family with a Native American mother and an African American father. Understanding that education was important, Brown graduated from the Indiana State Normal School, now Indiana State University, majoring in commerce and earning her bachelor’s degree in business.

Later she would receive a master’s degree in business administration from Northwestern University and became a teacher at Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana. Eventually she moved to Chicago and became a social worker.

“Any time you are a first in anything, that’s a challenge. Willa Brown was the first African American woman in the United States to get a private pilot license, get licensed and certified as a mechanic, and earn a commercial pilot’s license,” said the Rev. Sandra Campbell, a former manager with the Federal Aviation Administration

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