Who was the first black person in the world to go airborne in an aircraft?

Surprisingly, google fails me in this so I don't think it falls under the closeable category of trivial trivia.

(I do not use the term "African American" because the answer might not be an American. I don't use "African" either because there are white Arab Africans. I suppose Sub-saharan African? But then there are black Africans on the north coast of Africa too. So I don't know what the term is that's both accurate and politically correct.)

Closest I've found so far:

  • Bessie Coleman was the first black woman to hold a civil pilot license, but I could not find a date for her very first airborne event, either as a passenger or pilot.

  • Eugene Bullard was one of the first black pilots, as was Ahmet Ali Çelikten and Emory C. Malick according to wikipedia. I could not find dates for their very first airborne events either.

My question is about any such person to be airborne in an aircraft. Obviously this could be a passenger, not a pilot. Edit: and it could be an employee too. I don't know how the personnel was organized back then, but maybe some cargo handler went along with some flights.

BTW the definition I'm using for "aircraft" is any heavier-than-air thing flies via lift. So no hot-air balloons and no dirigibles. But rotary-aircraft and gliders are okay. I think they had experimental ones very early in aviation history.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It seems much more likely to me that the first black person to fly would have been a passenger rather than a pilot. I suspect also that the first black person to fly would have been an African in Africa, in a European colonial possession (i.e. nearly all of Africa in the first decade of the twentieth century), and almost certainly as an employee rather than a paying passenger. But that's only a guess. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 25, 2017 at 13:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It seems related to segregation or something like this and you are likely asking for the US. There are countries where the only pilots and passengers are black and where the question is not really pertinent. Maybe you want to explain a bit more and use the tag "usa". Also the French pioneers in airmail used to fly over Africa and were assisted by local interpreters in case of forced landing in the desert or rebels areas (asking for ransom was usual at this time over 1917-18) $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Mar 25, 2017 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ Ahmet Ali Çelikten seems to have been of mixed race, mostly Turkish, not black. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Mar 25, 2017 at 18:08
  • $\begingroup$ @mins No, I want to know the first black to fly in the world. Of course it's still related to segregation because aviation was invented in 1903, a time when there was much racism and segregation all over the world, not just in usa. I edited the OP. $\endgroup$
    – DrZ214
    Commented Mar 25, 2017 at 19:48
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "there was much racism and segregation all over the world, not just in usa": Actually there was few countries with segregation: US, South Africa, Australia, Germany (briefly against Jews), Rhodesia and Malaysia. Segregation against Black people occurred only in US and South Africa. So your question is basically pertinent for US and RSA. Black people not flying early in other countries is because of other reasons. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Mar 26, 2017 at 1:34

1 Answer 1


The earliest example I could find is Emory Malick, a African American Aviator who received his pilots license in 1912 but stopped flying after a series of crashes. For the first pilot with a major career, every source I could find points to Eugene Bullard, an American who studied in France and fought in WWI, receiving his license in 1917.

Specific searches to look for British, German, or Italian pilots of African descent came up with nothing from that time period, so I think it's fairly safe to say that these two were the first.

Outside of the US, Ahmet Ali Çelikten flew for the Ottoman Empire beginning in 1914, and is widely regarded as the second black pilot following Malick.

As for passengers, I doubt you'll find much unless logs from the time included race on tickets for aviation.

  • $\begingroup$ I understand that the US did not issue pilots licenses until 1927. Where did these early pilots get the licenses you mention? $\endgroup$
    – J W
    Commented Mar 25, 2017 at 13:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It's in the article. The Malick and Bullard articles both specify license numbers in them. Bullard got his in France, and it isn't said for Malick $\endgroup$
    – Timpanus
    Commented Mar 25, 2017 at 14:19
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, the Malick article mentions licenses. What it doesn't note is that these were not Government issued licenses. Clubs offered licenses. See the article comments. $\endgroup$
    – J W
    Commented Mar 25, 2017 at 14:23
  • $\begingroup$ "As for passengers, I doubt you'll find much unless logs from the time included race on tickets for aviation." Maybe, maybe not. Back in the day, passenger tickets were pretty expensive, so whoever bought them proly has plenty of other records associated with his/her name. It would require some serious sleuthing, however. $\endgroup$
    – DrZ214
    Commented Mar 25, 2017 at 23:48
  • $\begingroup$ I think your assertion about the US being the first to have black pilots is probably wrong and certainly naive. Other countries tend to not make distinction based on skin colour when issuing pilot licenses, and never have (with few exceptions like potentially the RSA). $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 11:57

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