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Sun, 01.21.1906

Willa Brown was an aviation pioneer

Willa Brown

*On this date, we mark the birth of Willa Brown in 1906. She was a Black aviator, activist, and educator.

From Glasgow, Kentucky, Willa Mae Brown received her Bachelor of Science degree in business from Indiana State Teachers College in 1927. After graduating, she taught public school in Gary, Indiana, and Chicago, Illinois, where she developed an interest in aviation.

In 1935, Brown received a master mechanics certificate from the Aeronautical University in Chicago, and three years later she was became the first Black woman to earn a private pilot’s license in the United States with a near flawless score of 96 percent.  Brown then earned a masters' in business administration (MBA) from Northwestern University and a Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) ground school instructor's rating.  When Brown married Cornelius Coffey, the two formed the Coffey School of Aeronautics to train Black pilots.

She retired in 1971 as a schoolteacher. Willa Brown, the first Black officer in the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) died of a stroke in 1992.

Black Women in America An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York
ISBN 0-926019-61-9

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