Black aviator: the story of William J. Powell : a new edition of William J. Powell's Black wings

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Smithsonian Institution Press, 1934 - Biography & Autobiography - 150 pages
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During the 1930s a prominent black entrepreneur and pilot named William J. Powell urged blacks to acquire the skills to become pilots, mechanics, and aviation business leaders, so that they could attain economic power in the air age and break down the barriers of racism. Powell shared his vision of black advancement in his thinly disguised 1934 autobiography, Black Wings, now reissued as Black Aviator after six decades of obscurity. Containing new photographs and historical information on Powell's life and times (1899-1942), the book chronicles the formative part of Powell's career in aviation through the fictional personality of "Bill Brown." The narrative begins with Powell's first airplane ride in Paris in 1927 (three months after Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic) and then moves to Los Angeles, where he pursued his career in aviation full time. Powell worked tirelessly to promote black awareness of aviation, recruiting Duke Ellington, Joe Louis, and other prominent figures as sponsors. Black Aviator recounts how he founded the Bessie Coleman Aero Club to promote flying within the black community, sponsored record-breaking flights, and organized air shows. Powell provides vivid portrayals of early black pilots such as Hubert Fauntleroy Julian, James Herman Banning, and C. Alfred Anderson. Based on real events and individuals, Bill Brown's story describes how black pilots first broke into aviation in the Depression years. An introductory essay by Von Hardesty places Powell's life and work in the larger context of American social history.

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Black aviator: the story of William J. Powell: a new edition of William J. Powell's 1934 Black wings

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Published in 1934 as Black Wings, this is the story of Bill Powell, one of the pioneers of African American aviation. In telling his own story, Powell includes those of other early black pilots. Read full review


Bills First Airplane Ride

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About the author (1934)

Von Hardesty is a historian and curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. He is the editor of the Cambridge Centennial of Flight book series. He lives in Grottoes, Virginia.

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