The dreams of flight, freedom, and the view from above inspired by the Wright brothers were not segregated, but for almost 50 years after they took to the skies, the paths to the training and expertise necessary to become a pilot were.
In the 1920s, for example, C. Alfred Anderson, who later became the owner of the Tuskegee Institute Flying School, was denied admission to any of the existing aeronautical schools and instead was forced to purchase his own plane.
The enormous impediments black aviators overcame and the important contributions they went on to make should be shared as widely as possible. Black Wings: American Dreams of Flight charts the groundbreaking, history-making, and patriotic paths of some very valiant men and women. This group of aviators is extraordinary. From Bessie Coleman securing a pilot’s license, through the Tuskegee Airmen and the integration of our armed forces, to Guy Bluford in space, the exhibition and its related content reveal a moving adventure and spirit of path-finding.
Other scholarship and exhibition projects have explored African American aviation pioneers and their efforts to gain recognition as pilots. The tale of their struggles typically culminates in a commemoration of the Tuskegee Airmen and their heroics during the Second World War. Black Wings follows the same narrative arc but uses the Tuskegee Airmen as a jumping off point to tell the untold story of African American aviation in the last 65 years.
The content of the exhibition is based on the book of the same title by National Air and Space Museum curator, Von Hardesty. The show covers significant figures, events, and themes associated with African Americans in aviation and aerospace history. It documents the struggles of those individuals who were systematically barred from the ranks of military and civil aviation, and highlights the parallels between the struggles of these aviation pioneers and those of the civil rights movement. Among other topics, the exhibition explores black aviation firsts, barnstormers, aerobatics, long distance flights, the Tuskegee Airmen, integration of the U.S. Armed Services, the Vietnam and Korean conflicts, commercial aviation, and the involvement of African Americans in the space program.
This exhibition was generously supported by MetLife Foundation. By providing innovative programs such as Black Wings, MetLife Foundation continues its legacy of supporting programs that celebrate the heritage and achievements of the African American community.
Q. Want more #BlackWings? Follow us for trivia like this: Who was the first American to receive an international pilot's license?
A. Texas-born Bessie Coleman received her license in France on June 15, 1921.
Text panels and graphics, over 50 historic artifacts, built components
Banners and DVDS
$8,000 per 12-week slot plus shipping
Approximately 2,500 square feet
10 crates (5 actual crates and 5 blanket wrapped cases on pallets)
Black Wings: Courageous Stories of African Americans in Aviation and Space History; hardcover; by Von Hardesty
Explores the history of African Americans in American aviation—from early biplanes to space flight. Text includes stories of Bessie Coleman, the first black woman with a pilot's license; Eugene Jacques Bullard, the first black American to fly in combat (during World War I, for the French); and C. Alfred Anderson, the first to earn a Commercial Pilot License, among many others. Published by the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum.
Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Tells the Story of
African American Pioneers of Flight
“The air is the only place free from prejudices.”— Bessie Coleman
The Wright brothers signaled the arrival of the new air age when they flew an airplane on a 12-second flight in Kitty Hawk, N.C., in December 1903. It was the beginning of America’s new fascination with and exploration of flight. And while many African Americans were enthusiastic about flight, they still faced racial discrimination and were denied access to formal training as pilots and mechanics. A powerful group of aviation proponents emerged to challenge these obstacles and create their own legacy in the world of flight. “Black Wings: American Dreams of Flight,” a new Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition funded by MetLife Foundation, chronicles this group of Americans.
“Black Wings” will open in Chicago July 2 at the historic DuSable Museum and will be on view through Sept. 25. Developed by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, the exhibition will travel to museums on a national tour through 2015.
This exhibition chronicles some of the most important black figures from the past and present that helped make the dream of careers in flight and space exploration possible, including Bessie Coleman, a young African American woman who desired to fly but whose race prevented her from doing so in the U.S. To combat this injustice, Coleman went to France to learn to fly. Another important figure, William J. Powell, led an ambitious program to promote aviation by establishing the Bessie Coleman Flying Club and later sponsored the first all-black air show in Los Angeles in the late 1930s.
These are people that shaped the lasting legacy African Americans would forever leave on aviation. Divided into six sections, “Black Wings” chronicles the evolution of aviation through the stories of African Americans who dreamed of flight, left their mark and helped pave the way for those who would follow. Figures whose contributions are explored include the Tuskegee Airmen—the first military division of African American pilots who fought in World War II—and Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to fly in space.
The exhibition is based on the book Black Wings: Courageous Stories of African Americans in Aviation and Space History (HarperCollins, 2008) by exhibition curator Von Hardesty of the National Air and Space Museum.
The National Air and Space Museum building on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is located at Sixth Street and Independence Avenue S.W. The museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is located in Chantilly, Va., near Washington Dulles International Airport. Both facilities are open daily from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free, but there is a $15 fee for parking at the Udvar-Hazy Center.
SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for almost 60 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play. Exhibition descriptions and tour schedules are available at www.sites.si.edu.
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