In honor of Black History Month, we asked some American Express Global Business Travel (Amex GBT) colleagues to choose two Black pioneers who’ve transformed travel and who they feel connected to for a special AtlasTM series. Today, we hear from Paul McDonnough, an operations manager for groups strategic accounts, who selected two trailblazers who broke color barriers in the sky.
Dr. Guion “Guy” Bluford, the first Black astronaut to fly to space
Dr. Guion (better known as Guy) Bluford had both brains and guts. With three degrees in aerospace engineering and a master of business administration degree, he served as an officer in the US Air Force, flying 144 combat missions as a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War.
In 1978, Bluford was among 35 individuals selected from 10,000 applicants in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s first competition to become space shuttle astronauts. Five years later, he made history when he became the first Black astronaut to fly to space as a crew member aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger when it launched from Kennedy Space Station on its third mission. He was also the first African American to return to space a second, third, and fourth time.
“What I find so personally inspiring about Guy was, as a young African American, he was greatly interested in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs before it was an official title.”
This ties in well with our Black History Month coverage focusing on historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
“No, Guy didn’t attend an HBCU,” Paul said, “but we know these schools continue to provide African-American students a fighting chance to obtain STEM degrees. A recent study by the United Negro College Fund shows that 25% of African Americans today who graduate with STEM degrees come from HBCUs. They provide a more affordable option for lower-income, high-aptitude students who desire STEM degrees.”
Capt. Marlon Dewitt Green, one of the first Black pilots for a major airline
Marlon Dewitt Green, a former US Air Force pilot, has been described as “aviation’s Jackie Robinson” for overcoming discrimination to become one of the first Black pilots hired by a regularly scheduled commercial passenger airline.
In 1957, Green applied for a pilot position with Continental Airlines. He was invited in for an interview after leaving blank the racial identity question in the application. Green was not hired, yet five other white applicants, all of whom had far less experience than he had, were.
He filed a complaint with the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Commission, which ruled that Continental had to admit Green into a training class. The airline refused and took the matter to the Denver District Court.
Fast-forward to 1963, when the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Continental Airlines had to comply with the State of Colorado’s antidiscrimination laws and hire Green. The ruling helped to open the doors for hundreds of other Black pilots.
“I personally love this story as it represents perseverance to overcome racial discrimination and shows how the barriers to stop a capable and accomplished person from realizing their dream solely based on the color of their skin and not the content of their character or competencies have no place in this world. The efforts to dim Capt. Green’s light and douse his dreams should never be allowed to win,” Paul said.
“The ability to fight clear racial discrimination and seek justice and equality against all odds while facing influential corporate interests reminds me of Dr. King’s words, ‘The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy,’” Paul continued. “We cannot sit idly by and remain silent in the face of glaring injustice or signs of discrimination. The uncomfortable conversation is the only way we can truly realize measurable change.”
Check out our Instagram and LinkedIn social media for more of our Black History Month coverage as well as here for the first Black pioneers post. Be on the lookout next week for our final installment in our Black pioneer series when we focus on two female trailblazers breaking color and gender barriers.