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Writing in the Sky: Black Aviation in the Interwar Black Press
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This thesis traces the history of black aviation from 1921 to 1937 through textual analysis of the black press’s, in particular the Courier and the Defender’s, coverage of black aviation, including texts submitted to the newspapers by black aviators themselves. The thesis focuses on the symbiotic development of black aviation and the black press in their efforts to present black America’s technological capability – embodied in what is here termed “the goodwill message of black aviation” – as well as on the black newspapers’ role in promoting aviation in the African American community as a civil rights and economic cause. The thesis further explores the anxiety expressed in black newspapers for black pilots to be included in the United States Air Service and later Air Corps as the aviation campaign in black papers emphasized not only the civilian and economic aspect of aviation, but also its military dimension. The thesis thus presents black aviation as a well-developed phenomenon in the black press long before black pilots became famous through the involvement of the Tuskegee airmen in WW2. The text emphasizes the fact that Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York were hubs of black aviation well before the establishment of a civilian-pilot training facility at Tuskegee and other historically black colleges and universities in late 1930s and early 1940s. It demonstrates that black aviation – similarly to baseball integration, improved housing conditions, and criminal justice reform – was among the causes widely discussed and advocated for in the black press, because of its economic and military dimension. Depicting African Americans as technologically and mechanically skilled and thereby qualified for employment in aviation as well as inclusion in the US military are shown here to have been the primary objectives of the campaign. Finally, black aviation is defined as a civil-rights cause well before the much-covered Tuskegee airmen’s struggle for civil rights.
Benes, Jan (2017). Writing in the Sky: Black Aviation in the Interwar Black Press. Master's thesis, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from