Aviator, politician, educator and activist, Willa Brown drew strength and inspiration from the life work of her courageous predecessor, Bessie Coleman.
Willa was born on January 22, 1906 in Glasgow, Kentucky. She earned a B.A. from Indiana Teachers College (1927) and an M.B.A. from Northwestern University (1937). Determined to become a top aviator in spite of racial barriers, Willa enrolled in the Aeronautical University in Chicago and earned a Master Mechanic Certificate. On June 22, 1938, she earned her private pilot’s license with a near perfect test score.
Willa was instrumental in establishing the Coffey School of Aeronautics. In doing so, she fulfilled Bessie’s long standing dream of a black owned private flight school. As the president of the Chicago branch of the National Airmen’s Assoc. of America, Willa led a successful fight to integrate African Americans into the U.S. Army Corps.
Promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, Willa became the first African American officer in the Civil Air Patrol. She was a member of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Women’s Advisory Board and became the first African American woman to earn a commercial pilot’s license. Willa added still another first to her prestigious career when in 1946 she became the first African American woman to run for Congress.
Her incredible contributions made an enormous impact on our country and will
be felt for generations to come. Willa Brown died in July of 1992.