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A Trailblazer to Remember

We probably all know of Amelia Rose Earhart, the woman pilot. She is pretty famous and much written about her, and mystery still surrounds her. But, have you heard of Azellia White? I saw mention of her a while ago and wanted to know more about her. According to my sources she was the first African American woman to earn a pilots license in America. She was a true trailblazer, overcoming widespread perceptions at the time, that neither women nor African Americans were qualified to fly airplanes.

Azellia was born in Gonzales, Texas, on June 3, 2013. I was unable to find a lot about her, which intrigued me even more. I did find a record of her marriage to Hulon “Pappy” White in 1936. He was an airplane mechanic and was with the Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of African-American military pilots who fought in World War II. They formed the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces.

In 1941 Eleanor Roosevelt visited Tuskee, Alabama, where they were living. Roosevelt was very impressed with the Tuskgee Airmen and apparently encouraged her husband to let them fly in World War II.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African American soldiers to successfully complete their training and enter the Army Air Corps (Army Air Forces). Almost 1000 aviators were produced as America's first African American military pilots. The Tuskegee Airmen fought a two front war—one against the Axis powers and one against racial discrimination. By proving black men could fly and serve courageously in combat, the Tuskegee Airmen set the stage for the integration of the US military in 1948 and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Among these, 355 served in active duty during World War Two as fighter pilots. Sixty-six Tuskegee Airmen died in combat. Overall, The Tuskegee Airmen destroyed 251 enemy airplanes and were awarded a total of 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses for their service.The rest is history. While there, on the base with her husband, Azellia began to train on a airplane under the instruction and supervision of several of the Airmen. She took to flying like an eagle to the sky—to her, flying the Taylorcraft airplane was easy earning her private pilot’s license on March 26, 1946.

When the War ended, the Whites moved to South Houston, to the Taylor-Stevenson Ranch. They founded the Sky Ranch Flying Service with fellow Airmen, Ben Stevenson and Elton “Ray” Thomas. Sky Ranch was an airport for Houston’s black community and provided charter flights and flying lessons. While Azellia was not an official owner she was quite well known and popular around the airport. Students often asked for her specifically. On occasion she played pranks on the students midair, with surprising stunts. This was a time when African Americans were still harassed and assaulted on a regular basis, and land travel exposed them to danger, she would often fly from town to town with her young niece to shop.

The company closed its doors in 1948 but the pioneering aspect of Sky Ranch made its mark on the community. Mrs. White continues to serve as an inspiration to aspiring aviators and the Aviation Science Lab at Houston’s Sterling High School is named in her honor. Principal Justin Fuentes called her "a powerful reminder to our students that they can be anything they want to be and achieve anything they want to achieve. No one can stop them.”

In April 2018 White was inducted into the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame. White received the Trailblazer Award from the Black Pilots of America for her “pioneering spirit in forging a path to the field of aviation.”

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