The First Female Black Pilot in Texas Turns 105: Azellia White’s Will to Fly

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Tony Maples Photography


Azellia White may be 105 years old, but she clearly remembers becoming the first African-American woman to receive her Texas pilot’s license. (Note: fellow African-American pilot Bessie Coleman received her license in France). This kindly centenarian made history as the first female black pilot in the Lone Star State! Born in Gonzales, Texas, in 1913, White married and then moved with her husband Hulon “Pappy” White to Alabama where he worked as a mechanic with the Tuskegee Airmen, an all African-American pursuit squadron based in Tuskegee. One day in 1941, then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt came to visit the airfield and asked, despite Secret Service objections, to fly with one of the African-American pilots.  After flying for an hour with one of the pilots, Eleanor Roosevelt was so impressed that she recommended deployment of the squadron into World War II.

The First Female Black Pilot in Texas Turns 105: Azellia White's Will to Fly

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White was then inspired to learn how to fly herself. Onsite, she had eager teachers to train her, and she earned her private pilot’s license on March 26, 1946. Trips were often executed around the southern United States as it was often dangerous for African-Americans to travel from town to town by land.

The First Female Black Pilot in Texas Turns 105: Azellia White's Will to Fly

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When World War II came to a close, White and Pappy returned to Texas, and she continued to fly. Partnering with her husband and two other Tuskegee Airmen, she started the Sky Ranch Flying Service, located in south Houston. Sky Ranch served as an airport for the segregated African-American community and provided instruction to veterans interested in flying, as well as charter flying, cargo services, and other amenities to afford African-American G.I.’s and civilians the opportunity to learn about aviation. The company closed its doors in 1948, reportedly due to new legislation which restricted the use of the G.I. Bill, leading to a downturn in the flight training business, but Sky Ranch and all involved made its mark on the community.

Today, Mrs. White continues to serve as an inspiration with many honors to her name, including official induction into the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame. The first female black pilot in Texas is a true Lone Star State legend!