Resources for hidden stories of Black achievement
It is becoming increasingly apparent in many areas of society that significant achievements of underrepresented groups have either been left out, ignored or only partially represented. As the UK celebrates Black History Month, we will take this opportunity to consider some useful resources which provide insights into Black achievement across the aerospace and aviation sectors, from supporting NASA’s 1960s space race efforts to unknown World War Two heroes.
- Black Aviator: the Story of William J. Powell, J. Powell (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994)
From electrical engineer to aspiring pilot, rejected time after time for entry into flight schools, Powell eventually succeeded and authored a semi-autobiographical novel Black Wings which described the struggles of African Americans to become pilots.
- We Could Not Fail: the First African Americans in the Space Program, Paul and S. Moss (University of Texas Press. 2015)
A detailed study of how Clyde Foster, Morgan Watson, George Bourda, Julius Montgomery, Frank Crossley and Ed Dwight among others pioneered the employment of African American scientists and engineers at NASA sites in Texas, Alabama and Florida and the challenging experiences they faced during the 1950s and 1960s.
- Benjamin O. Davis Jr.: an Autobiography, O. Davis (Smithsonian Institution Press. 1991)
The memoirs of a distinguished American airman, who was to command the 99th Pursuit Squadron and the 332nd Fighter Group during the Second World War, and of his battle against racial segregation in the American armed forces.
- Essays on Bessie Coleman and Benjamin Davis, V. P. Dawson and M. Bowles (Eds) from Realizing the Dream of Flight: Biographical Essays in Honor of the Centennial of Flight 1903-2003. NASA SP-2005-4112
A collection of essays celebrating diverse achievements in the first century of powered flight. Visit:
- History of the Tuskagee Airmen, D. L. Haulman. From Air Power History Vol 65 (2), pp 45-49, Summer 2018
- Black Wings: Courageous Stories of African Americans and Aviation and Space History, Von Hardesty, (Harper Collins, 2007)
- Distinguished African Americans in Aviation and Space Science, B. Kaplan Gubert et al (The Oryx Press, 2002)
- Pilots and Soldiers of the Caribbean: Fighting Men of the Caribbean, Maureen M Dickson, 2020 (Available at Amazon)
Stories of individuals who left their homes in the Caribbean to join ‘the Mother Country’ to join the war effort as pilots and solders in the Second World War.
- Average – A Training Diary, T Edwards (EDO Industries, June 2015)
Edwards’ journey from growing up on the Thamesmead Estate in Woolwich, East London, to joining the RAF in 1985 as Regiment Officer before transferring to aircrew and qualifying as a fast jet pilot.
- Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race, M Shetterly (William Morrow and Co, HarperCollins)
Adapted for the acclaimed 2016 film, Shetterly highlights the hidden Black women, known as ‘computers’ who provided complex mathematical data for Nasa’s Space Race and their fight for recognition, equity and access to advanced education including Mary W Jackson, the first Black female aerospace engineer at Nasa and who is now honoured in the RAeS Named Lecture Programme.
- Cathedrals in the Sky, Andrew Rajan (San Fernando Press, 2014)
In this novel British author Andrew Rajan takes a closer look at the lesser acknowledged countries that fought in World War II. In this fascinating new novel, Rajan tells the tales of a Trinidadian fighter pilot manning a Spitfire plane in 1941 and a British-Asian boy in 1976, who discovers the very same plane buried in his backyard. Seamlessly weaving between the stories of these two characters, we learn the stories of those who served in World War II — outside of Europe — and the role that the iconic Spitfire plays in uniting them both. Spanning a period of seventy years, Cathedrals in the Sky shines a light on the story of a Caribbean man fighting in the Second World War.
- Black Poppies: Britain’s Black Community and the Great War (The History Press,2014)
An acclaimed study of the black presence in Britain during the First World War, Stephen Bourne illuminates fascinating stories of black servicemen of African heritage. These accounts of the fights for their ‘Mother Country’ are charted from the outbreak of war in 1914 to the conflict’s aftermath in 1919, when black communities up and down Great Britain were faced with anti-black ‘race riots’ despite their dedicated services to their country at home and abroad.
Our thanks to former NAL Chief Librarian Brian Riddle who provided much of this research.
Getting started tip
Hidden Figures is an excellent Oscar nominated film which succeeds in been funny, poignant and educational, the film demonstrates how its protagonists overcame racism, prejudice and sexism with not only exceptional intelligence, talent and determination, but also humour and dignity. The film also shows rather than fear new technology, it can lead to new opportunities through continuous learning and development and will inspire views of all ages, backgrounds and genders.
Streaming on Amazon Prime
During World War II, the Civil Aeronautics Authority select 13 black cadets to become part of an experimental program at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. The program aims at training ‘colored personnel’ to become fighter pilots for the Army. However, discrimination, lack of institutional support and the racist belief that these men lacked the intelligence and aptitude for the job dog their every step. Despite this, the Tuskegee Airmen, as they become known, more than prove their worth. An all star cast bring this thrilling true story George Lucas production to the big screen.
Streaming on Netflix
Author: Wayne J Davis