Riots to Renaissance: Willa Brown

Willa Brown

Willa Brown (Source: Library of Congress)

Willa Brown (1906-1992) worked as a teacher before moving to Chicago in 1932. She developed a love for flying after meeting Johnny Robinson and spending time with the black aviators at Harlem Airport. In 1939, Brown became the first black woman to attain a commercial pilot's license and was often likened to Bessie Coleman. An attractive and charismatic woman, Brown also became the face of Chicago's group of black aviators. A born publicist, she was instrumental in establishing a relationship with the Chicago Defender newspaper which increased visibility for black aviators' activities in the city and across the country. After the closing of the aeronautics school that she had established with Cornelius Coffey, Brown continued to be a leader in the fight to integrate blacks into the U.S. Army Corps.