To commemorate this year’s Juneteenth, United Airlines flight 1258 decided to use an all-Black crew for its Houston to Chicago flight. Everyone from the pilots, flight crew, gate agents, flight dispatchers, caterers to ramp staff, and more for the two and half hour flight was Black.
This year’s Juneteenth hit different for everyone in the United States because the day is now set aside as a federal holiday. Juneteenth celebrates the freedom of some 250,000 enslaved people in Texas in 1865. Although it is not the day slavery legally ended, it is the oldest known celebration honoring the end of slavery in the United States.
The decision of the United Airlines flight to set off from Houston with an all-Black crew on such a day was thoughtful, according to the city’s Mayor Sylvester Turner, who gave a moving speech that summed up the purpose for the celebrations for many African Americans.
“Over 150 years since the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln, as African Americans we have walked, we have run, we have been driving, we have been sailing. But today signifies that we have the potential of leaving the ground and now even African Americans are flying amongst the stars. The best is yet to come,” he said.
“Let me tell you, for our ancestors, my parents, if they were still alive, they would just be amazed,” Turner said to CNN affiliate KTRK.
There was a water cannon salute before the flight took off. The crew members were also delighted to be part of this historic feat by their airline. The flight’s captain serenaded the audience with lovely tunes from his saxophone.
Also, Deon Byrne, one of the pilots, in an interview with CNN, pointed out the difficulties Black people, especially Black women face in the aviation industry. “There’s not a lot of encouragement, and there’s absolutely mentorship for the future generation, but when I came in, it was very difficult to find the funding, the resources, and the connections to get started in the industry,” Byrne said.
Byrne has been in the aviation industry for 25 years and for the first time she got to work with an all-Black crew which meant a great deal to her.
“A lot of people say, ‘Oh, what’s the big deal, a bunch of Black people is just flying from here to there,’ but it is a big deal,” Byrne said. “In the aviation industry, people have always questioned if we were as safe or as competent. And we are careful. We’re very competent.”
United Airlines, which has its own flight school, has been working to improve its diversity, with the goal of training more women and people of color.