Author: Deborah

The Navy’s First African-American Aviators Are Not Unique

The Navy's First African-American Aviators Are Not Unique

Review: ‘Devotion’ stirringly tells the story of the Navy’s first Black aviator

In The New York Times, John Powers points to the Navy’s first African-American aviators, “whistleblowers” who fought for the Navy, but were denied rank because of who their parents were. “For some time after the war, the Navy has been trying to make amends,” Powers writes. “The most recent example is the announcement this month that it will invite the three first African American aviators in its fleet to attend a ceremony in its White House on the 100th anniversary of the first African American naval aviator, the celebrated African American naval pilot, Sargent Alvin York.”

The Navy’s attempt to repair its “racist roots” is commendable. But to be sure, the stories of pilots and their parents were not and are not unique. While the first-ever African-American aviator, Alvin York, was an exception, his son had a family history that had the potential to set off alarm bells in many who have become accustomed to racial biases and stereotyping throughout the years.

The New York Times published “Sargent Alvin York: A Black Navy Captain,” by David W. E. Brown on October 22, 1970. In it, it says, “Despite the fact that he was never admitted to the Naval Academy, he took on the responsibilities of the Navy’s first black enlisted sailor. His name was Alvin H. York, Jr., and he was part of the first black unit of the Navy to be allowed to graduate, the Flying Tigers, named after the celebrated group of African-American aviators.”

This may have been the first time that the word aviator entered the English language as a synonym of the word black, but it is not the first time that it entered the vernacular — at least as well as it did in the language that white America uses. Throughout its history, African-Americans have performed aviation and military service. In fact, during the Civil War that pitted the Union Army against the Confederacy, the US Navy was one of the few African-American units in the Army’s ranks. The African-American aviators were not allowed to fly ships, but they served with the Army’s aviation units and did fly ships for the Navy.

The Navy Times ran their first article about the story in the June 18, 1965, issue

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