Janet Bragg, Aviatrix by ~Kicha~ on Flickr.
Bragg had been interested in flying since she was a little girl. It was a billboard, however, that encouraged her to follow through on this interest. In 1933 as she was coming out of a house, Janet saw a billboard with a drawing of a nest with chicks and the caption, “Birds learn to fly. Why can’t you?” She enrolled at the Aeronautical School of Engineering to begin her ground work. At the school, black and white students were segregated. She was the first black female student.
Janet Bragg enrolled in Aeronautical University ground school in 1933, taking courses in aeronautics, meteorology, and aircraft mechanics. However, the school owned no airplanes and could not offer actual flight training. So Bragg decided to buy an airplane that she could not only learn to fly but could also rent out to other pilots to defray the cost. The next problem was locating an airfield that would let her operate her plane and learn to fly.
This proved to be quite difficult since black fliers were not allowed to fly out of airports used by whites. The solution: she and her classmates and instructors formed the Challenger Aero Club, purchased land in the all-black town of Robbins, Illinois, and built their own airfield.
In 1943 Bragg applied for duty with the Women Airforce Service Pilots but was rejected because of her race. She attended instead the Civilian Pilot Training Program flight school at Tuskegee, Alabama, intending to obtain a commercial pilot’s license. She successfully completed the course work and flight tests, but was prevented from receiving her license by a bigoted instructor.
Not to be deterred, she went to Chicago, where she passed the examination and earned the first commercial pilot’s license ever issued to a black woman.
“Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia” Vol 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine