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Azellia White, First Black Female Pilot And Aviation Pioneer, Dies At 106

Azellia White, who became one of the first Black women to earn a pilot’s license in the United States, died September 14 at a nursing home in Sugar Land, Texas. She was 106 years old, The Washington Post reports.

White’s death, which was first reported in the London Daily Telegraph, was under-reported in America and other international news outlets, The Washington Post notes. Her great-niece, Emeldia Bailey, confirmed her death but didn’t give a cause.

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White was the daughter of a sharecropper and a midwife. She became interested in aviation because of her husband Hulon “Pappy” White, who was a mechanic during World War II. “Pappy” worked in Tuskegee, Alabama, for Black pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen. She received her pilot’s license in Alabama on March 26, 1946.

Dorothy Cochrane, a curator in the aeronautics department of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, said White overcame both racial and gender barriers, according to The Washington Post.

White and her husband “were there at the forefront of continuing to spread aviation throughout the African-American community and prove to everyone that they were equal partners in aviation,” Cochrane said.

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One of White’s fondest moments as a pilot was in 1941 when first lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the Tuskegee Army Air Field and requested a ride with the Black chief instructor Charles A. Anderson. The gesture, which inspired White, came at a time when the military was still segregated. In 1948, President Harry Truman signed an order to desegregate the armed forces.

White and her husband by that time had created Sky Ranch Flying Service in Houston, Texas, to provide flight training and charter and delivery services. The operation later shuttered in 1948, but its impact was felt in the local community, White said.

White, who was later inducted into the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame, was one of 10 children. Her husband died in 1995 and their son died at birth. She has no immediate survivors. 

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