Rights offering detail :
Race Pilots: William Powell and the World’s Very First All-Negro Flying Circus
Apr. 24, 2017
Philip D. Scott
Non-fiction: Narrative
In 1927, William Powell decided to become a race pilot. Not the kind of pilot who competed in a shiny, custom-built airplane against other pilots for cash, prizes and fame, but rather, more simply, a Negro pilot. As far as he knew, America’s only race pilot had died in a crash the year before. But at that time Powell was too busy to give it much thought. After graduating high school near the top of his class, he commanded a unit of Negro engineers on the Western Front, graduated with an engineering degree from the University of Illinois, and bought and operated a chain of gas stations in Chicago's South Side. He was a dedicated family man, a homeowner, a devout Baptist, and he sang in the church choir every Sunday—a stellar example of America’s conservative Negro Middle Class.

Then in August 1927, Powell attended the American Legion Convention in Paris. At nearby Le Bourget Airport—where just three months before Charles Lindbergh had finished his remarkable nonstop flight from New York—a French pilot offered to show him the city for only a few francs. What happened afterward changed the world. Once he returned to the States, Powell couldn’t get an airline to take him up for a flight seeing tour. So far as lessons, every flying school rejected his application. Even a U.S. Army recruiter said he was disqualified. He just didn't have the smarts, according to the Army.

The expression “Race Pilots” originated with the Chicago Defender, America’s first Negro weekly newspaper, whose stylebook advised reporters and editors to substitute “race” for “colored” or “Negro.” Instead of “colored men” and “Negro achievement,” it was “race men” and “race achievement.” Instead of “colored pilots” or “Negro pilots,” it was “Race Pilots.” Race pilots weren’t illegal, though no school would give flying lessons to a Negro. Airlines refused to hire Negro pilots, mechanics and flight attendants, or fly Negro passengers.

With an infinite supply of optimism and stubbornness, and a dwindling supply of money and fading health from a gas attack during the war, Powell set out to make things right, to bring equality to this brand-new public infatuation while it was still adolescent. While Powell became Negro aviation’s founding father, he also turned into a pioneer of civil rights. Race Pilots: William Powell and the World’s Very First All-Negro Flying Circus is the forgotten story of his contribution.

This book shows how Powell scraped together the first few race pilots from across the country and hammered this often-fractious bunch into a flying circus that skirted Jim Crow laws or ignored them outright, and entertained tens of thousands with their exploits. They included pilots like James Banning, a serious aviator with a bawdy sense of humor; the calm professional Irvin Wells, the first African-American to qualify as a commercial airline pilot, but whom the airlines refused to hire; diminutive Marie Dickerson, America’s second black female pilot who was already famous for her erotic dance at LA’s Cotton Club; and flamboyant, charismatic Herbert Julian, whose mellifluous voice hypnotized crowds and congregations alike, which allowed him to abscond with money and cars, seduce wealthy women, and personally destroy a third of one nation’s Air Force.

With Powell as their leader, these race pilots flew the first desegregated air shows and integrated whites-only events, set records, and, in an age of lynch mobs and riots and poverty, allowed African-American children to dream big. Race Pilots displays the rich tapestry of African-American culture in the 1920s and 1930s, from the despair to the hope, the nightmares and the dreams, and the desires that burn in every soul. It shows how each stop across the nation could turn out warm, chilly or hostile for Powell and the circus pilots. It shows how an official pilot's license could even save their lives. And finally Race Pilots shows how Powell’s flying circus, pushing their skills to the limits by flying barely airworthy airplanes above a bigoted nation and an unforgiving terrain, also proved to the country that they could master the art and science of flight, a thing of unforgiving beauty that relies on intellect, skill and calm, something that few believed possible of the Negro race.
Rights available:
World Rights
Leticia Gomez
Savvy Literary Services
phone: 281-465-0119
3 Griffin Hill Ct., The Woodlands, TX 77382
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