Photo via: ABC 13
In 1946, Azellia White became the first Black woman to earn a pilot’s license in the state of Texas. After marrying mechanic, Hulon “Pappy” White, they relocated from Texas to Tuskegee, Alabama where he provided service to the iconic Tuskegee Airmen. Her curiosity around learning to fly soon blossomed into a serious pursuit.
Today at 105-years-young, the Gonzalez, Texas native continues to reflect on her glass ceiling shattering achievement and share her secrets to living such a long and fulfilling life. She credits not consuming alcohol nor smoking cigarettes as the secret to her long and vibrant life. Initially White learned foundational concepts and nuances of flying from some of the Tuskegee Airmen for whom her husband worked. “There weren’t too many Black people flying,” she shared with Houston’s ABC13 Eyewitness News. “And I said, ‘I can learn to fly,’ and I learned to fly. It was easy.”
She reports being inspired by a visit from former first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, to the airbase of the Tuskegee Airmen in 1941. It was after this pivotal visit that Mrs. Roosevelt is said to have convinced her husband to allow the Tuskegee Airmen to be deployed to fly in World War II. More than 70 years later, White still reflects on being present during that visit with great pride and reverence for the opportunity that Mrs. Roosevelt created for Black pilots. “Mrs. Roosevelt helped us. She said, ‘I’m going back and tell them to let those Black guys fly,’ and she did it and we took over.”
Photo via: ABC 13
After WWII, Black pilots returned to Houston, opened their own school to teach African Americans how to fly, and it was there that White formally trained and ultimately earned her pilot’s license. Over the years, she’s received numerous awards, including being inducted into the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame, having the the Avation Science Lab at Sterling High School in Houston, Texas named in her honor, and also being honored by the Houston Area Urban League Guild.
Guild president, Michelle Levi, remarked to her during the ceremony: “You have inspired all of us. She just wanted to fly, but she had no idea the impact she was making on other people.”