hidden figures: janet bragg, first african-american woman to hold a commercial pilot license

February 28, 2017

The rapper Jim Jones once said, “We fly high, no lie,” and it is said that the inspiration for that line was Janet Bragg, the first African-American woman to hold a commercial pilot license. Now, we’re not sure if that was his actual muse, or if it’s just the wishful thinking of our contributor, but now that we’ve got your attention, let’s dive into Janet Bragg’s life story. Born in 1907, seventh to a family of African and Cherokee heritage, the Griffin, Georgia native went on to attend Spelman College in Atlanta for her undergraduate degree in nursing. After college, she moved to Chicago where she was married twice.

In 1928, Bragg became the first black woman to enroll in the Curtiss Wright School of Aeronautics in Chicago. In 1933[7] Janet (then Waterford) enrolled at Aeronautical University, a segregated black aviation school managed by John C. Robinson and Cornelius Coffey and was the only Black woman in a class of 24. The school’s first airplane and airfield was funded partly through her contribution of $600. During the summer of 1933, she learned flying and went on to apply to join the Women Airforce Service Pilots program but was denied based on race. To achieve her dreams of becoming a commercial plot, she travelled to a flight school in Tuskegee, Alabama to complete Civilian Pilot Training but ended up being denied a pilot’s license again because of her race. Finally, she returned to Illinois and was awarded her well-deserved license. Because of being a trailblazer in aviation, she was inducted into the National Association of American Airmen. Janet Bragg flew high so others could reach new heights. She is a hidden figure no more!

By T. McLendon, AFROPUNK Contributor

Photos courtesy of the Smithsonian Museum