Willa B. Brown, aviator pioneer and activist

Herb Boyd | 11/29/2018, 11:33 a.m.

These efforts apparently paid off because within a three-year period, hundreds were trained by Brown, including many men who later became members of the famous Tuskegee Airmen. The Coffey School closed after World War II, but it should be remembered that her pioneering efforts and initiatives played an important role in creating the 99th Pursuit Squadron at Tuskegee Institute. Brown was the director/coordinator of both the Civil Aeronautics Administration programs at the Harlem Airport and the Wendell Phillips High School in Chicago. She was the recipient of another distinction in 1941 after becoming the first African-American officer in the U.S. Civil Air Patrol and commissioned a lieutenant. At the end of World War II, Brown, a Republican, was the first African-American woman to run for Congress. She was defeated by William Levi Dawson, the third African-American elected to Congress in the 20th century.

That was Brown’s only run for political office, but she continued to be dedicated to civil and equal rights and was significantly involved in the race and gender integration of the U.S. Army Air Corps.

Brown’s second marriage was to the Rev. J. H. Chappell, minister of the West Side Community Church in Chicago. Now, as Mrs. Brown-Chappell, and in recognition of her illustrious career in aviation as a pilot, instructor and activist, she was appointed to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Women’s Advisory Board in 1972.

She died July 18, 1992, at 86, in Chicago, and in 2010 she was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award by the Indiana State University Alumni Association.

I would like to thank the Robinson Family for tipping me off to the magnificent life of Willa Brown and their ongoing determination to make aerospace a more meaningful place in all our lives.