One of the first Black women to ever earn a pilot’s license in the United States, Azellia White, has died.
White died on September 14, 2019 at a nursing home in Sugar Land, Texas, The Washington Post reports after a confirmation from her great-niece, Emeldia Bailey.
She died at age 106. The cause of her death was not disclosed.
White, a daughter of a sharecropper and a midwife, developed interest in aviation through her husband Hulon ‘Pappy’ White, who was a mechanic during World War II. “Pappy” worked in Tuskegee, Alabama, for Black pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen. It is reported that she trained under the tutelage of her husband and his colleagues before becoming a professional pilot.
She received her pilot’s license in Alabama on March 26, 1946, The Washington Post continues in its report.
“All you had to do was get in the plane, and the pilot gets with you and tells you what he would like for you to do,” she once told an interviewer. “First thing you know, you’re flying.”
She had to face several racial and gender barriers to succeed in her career.
White and her husband “were there at the forefront of continuing to spread aviation throughout the African-American community and prove to everyone that they were equal partners in aviation,” Dorothy Cochrane, a curator in the aeronautics department of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum said.
“One of White’s fondest moments as a pilot was in 1941 when first lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the Tuskegee Army Air Field and requested a ride with the Black chief instructor Charles A. Anderson. The gesture, which inspired White, came at a time when the military was still segregated. In 1948, President Harry Truman signed an order to desegregate the armed forces.
“White and her husband by that time had created Sky Ranch Flying Service in Houston, Texas, to provide flight training and charter and delivery services. The operation later shuttered in 1948, but its impact was felt in the local community,” the paper states.
As a result of her passion and dedication she was inducted into the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame.