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Ruth Carol Taylor: Breaking the Sky-High Ceiling

During a 1997 interview with Jet magazine, Taylor described herself as a “blacktivist,” and admitted that she had “no long-term career aspirations as a flight attendant but only wanted to break the color barrier.”

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Ruth Carol Taylor. Fair Use Photo

It was the 1950s. The United States had been dubbed “the world’s strongest military power.” The economy was booming. Jobs were overflowing; housing was plentiful. But for Black Americans, racism was on fire, the Civil Rights Movement was gaining speed, and the best-paying jobs were for whites.

The airlines were no exception.

None of this stopped Ruth Carol Taylor (1931–), a journalist and nurse from New York City, from submitting her application to Trans World Airlines (TWA) for the position of airline stewardess (known today as flight attendants).

Her application was rejected almost immediately because she “did not meet the airline’s physical standards.”

Stewardesses, at the time, were selected because of their physical attractiveness and height/weight conformity. But the decision made to reject Taylor’s application was racially motivated. She filed a discrimination complaint with the New York State Commission and approached other airlines offering the position.

Mohawk Airlines, a regional passenger airline operating in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S., mainly in New York and Pennsylvania, began advertising open positions for stewardesses. The company also announced the open recruitment of Black women. More than 800 applied, and Taylor became one of the new hires. This made her the first African-American airline flight attendant in the US. It was 1958.

When asked about being the only Black hire, Taylor said that she believes it was “due to nearly white-passing skin and features.” She completed her training in early 1959 and was ready to take on her first flight.

After a few months, TWA, threatened by the lawsuit, brought its first Black stewardess onboard: Margaret Grant.

A short time later though, Taylor was grounded. She was let go from Mohawk on another discriminatory practice: she met and married Rex Legall and was forced to resign from her position. A ban against stewardesses being married or pregnant was not uncommon at that time.

Due to the decisive court case of Diaz vs. Pan Am., the no-marriage rule was eliminated throughout the US airline industry by the 1980s.

Taylor and Legall traveled and lived abroad for a few years. After their divorce, Taylor, in 1977, returned to New York City and nursing.

Best known for breaking the color barrier in the airline industry, Taylor was also an activist for minority and women’s rights. In 1963, she covered the March on Washington as a journalist for a British magazine, Flamingo.

By 1977, she began to focus more on her work as an activist. In 1982, she cofounded the Institute for Inter-Racial Harmony Inc. There she developed testing designed to measure racial bias in educational, commercial, and social settings.

During a 1997 interview with Jet magazine, Taylor described herself as a “blacktivist,” and admitted that she had “no long-term career aspirations as a flight attendant but only wanted to break the color barrier.”

Today she lives in Brooklyn.

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Black History

Ambassador Ruth A. Davis Pioneered Diversity in Foreign Service

UC Berkeley Grad Continues to Bring International Economic Empowerment for Women

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Ambassador Ruth A. Davis (left) is meeting with Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Ambassador Ruth A. Davis was recently named as a distinguished alumna by the School of Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley. 

She also has been honored by the U.S. State Department when a conference room at the Foreign Service Institute in Virginia was named in honor of her service as director of the Institute. She was the first African American to serve in that position.

Davis, a graduate of Spelman College received a master’s degree from UC Berkeley in 1968.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, also a graduate of the School of Social Welfare, now chairs the House Appropriations Committee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs. She praised Ambassador Davis as “a trailblazing leader and one of the great American diplomats of our time. Over her 40-year career, she had so many ‘firsts’ on her resume: the first Black director of the Foreign Service Institute, the first Black woman Director General of the Foreign Service, and the first Black woman to be named a Career Ambassador, to name just a few.

“She served all over the world, from Kinshasa to Tokyo to Barcelona, where she was consul general, and to Benin, where she served as ambassador,” Lee continued. “ I am so proud of her many accomplishments. She has represented the best of America around the world, and our world is a better place because of her service.”

During Davis’ 40-year career in the Foreign Service, she also served as chief of staff in the Africa Bureau, and as distinguished advisor for international affairs at Howard University. She retired in 2009 as a Career Ambassador, the highest-level rank in Foreign Service.

Since her retirement, Ambassador Davis has served as the chair (and a founding member) of the International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge (IWEC), an organization devoted to promoting women’s economic empowerment by creating an international network of businesswomen.

She also chairs the selection committee for the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship at Howard University’s Ralph Bunche International Affairs Center, where she helps to oversee the annual selection process. Finally, as vice president of the Association of Black American Ambassadors, she participates in activities involving the recruitment, preparation, hiring, retention, mentoring and promotion of minority Foreign Service employees.

Gay Plair Cobb, former Regional Administrator of the Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor in the Atlanta, and San Francisco offices, was Ambassador Davis’ roommate at UC Berkeley. Cobb said, “Ruth always exhibited outstanding leadership and a determined commitment to fairness, equal opportunity and activism, which we engaged in on a regular basis.”

Davis has received the Department of State’s Superior Honor Award, Arnold L. Raphel Memorial Award and Equal Employment Opportunity Award; the Secretary of State’s Achievement Award (including from Gen. Colin Powell); the Director General’s Foreign Service Cup; two Presidential Distinguished Service Awards; and Honorary Doctor of Laws from Middlebury and Spelman Colleges.

A native of Atlanta, Davis was recently named to the Economist’s 2015 Global Diversity List as one of the Top 50 Diversity Figures in Public Life and is the recipient of the American Foreign Service Association’s Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy Award.

 

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Black History

The Way West: Reparations Task Force Looks at Black Migration to California

During its third meeting, California’s Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans looked at reasons formerly enslaved Black people migrated to the Golden State — and detailed setbacks they faced after arriving. 

"Scott and Violet Arthur arrive with their family at Chicago's Polk Street Depot on Aug. 30, 1920, two months after their two sons were lynched in Paris, Texas. The picture has become an iconic symbol of the Great Migration. (Chicago History Museum)"[1]/ Wikimedia Commons

 I was leaving the South

to fling myself into the unknown…

I was taking a part of the South

to transplant in alien soil,

to see if it could grow differently,

if it could drink of new and cool rains,

bend in strange winds,

respond to the warmth of other suns

and, perhaps, to bloom.

- Richard Wright, the author of Black Boy, 1945

    During its third meeting, California’s Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans looked at reasons formerly enslaved Black people migrated to the Golden State — and detailed setbacks they faced after arriving. 

    During the period historians dub the “Great Migration”– which lasted from the early 1900s through the 1970s – approximately 6 million Black Americans relocated from Deep South states to Northern, Midwestern, Eastern and Western states. Significant numbers ended up in California, escaping Jim Crow laws and racial violence and seeking economic opportunity. 

     Isabel Wilkerson, author of “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, “described the movement as “a redistribution of Black people.”  

    “It was the only time in America’s history that American citizens had to flee the land of their birth just to be recognized as the citizens that they had always been,” Wilkerson said, pointing out that no other group of Americans has been displaced under similar conditions.

     After President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, the Reconstruction era began. It was a period of prosperity as some Blacks in different places began to establish businesses and communities; contest for (and win) political office; establish schools, and more. 

     But it was short-lived because of white backlash, Wilkerson said. 

     By the early 1900s, racist white Southerners began to terrorize freed Black people with cross burnings, and racial violence — and discriminate against them by instituting Jim Crow laws. 

     There was a spike in lynchings, and a sharecropping system that mirrored the conditions of slavery began to take form in the 11 former slaveholding states.

     Under those policies, opportunities for Blacks were almost nonexistent.

    After World War World I began in Europe in 1914, there was a shortage of labor. Factories started luring Black people North to fill vacancies. By 1919, an estimated 1 million Southern Blacks had departed for the North.

    By the 1930s, the Great Depression had slowed Black migration. But the revival of the exodus from the South, a period historians call the “Second Great Migration,” started around 1939. 

     This time around, California was a major destination. 

    As Black people left the South, Wilkerson said, they “followed three, beautifully predictable streams — pathways to freedom.” The first two led to Eastern and Midwestern states. The “West Coast stream,” Wilkerson told the task force, “carried people from Louisiana and Texas out to California and the entire West Coast.”

    World War II created an expansion of the country’s defense industry, according to the Southern California public television network,. During this time, more jobs were available to African Americans. California cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland began to see an influx of Black people.

    According to KCET, a Southern California public television network, the Black population in Los Angeles grew from 63,700 in the 1940s to 763,000 in 1970. The migration was largely fueled by job openings in industries manufacturing automobiles, rubber, and steel. The presence of Blacks became evident along Central Avenue between 8th and 20th streets in California’s largest city.

     “(Black southerners) were recruited to the North and West to fill labor shortages in the steel mills, factories and shipyards,” Wilkerson said. “It turned out that they wanted the labor but did not want the people.”

    The response to the Great Migration was “structural barriers of exclusion,” Wilkerson said. Restrictive covenants required white property owners to agree not to sell to Black people and many areas in large and mid-range cities were redlined to deny services to Blacks. 

   “By law and by policies, parents, grandparents or great-grandparents of almost every African American alive today (were denied) the greatest source of wealth in this country: homeownership, the American Dream itself,” Wilkerson said.  

    “With all the testimony I’ve heard, I don’t see how any person of conscience, character and civility could not understand that the facts have been given,” said Task Force vice-chair, the Rev. Amos Brown, pastor of Third Baptist Church in San Francisco and president of that city’s NAACP branch. 

   The purpose of the nine-member task force is to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans and recommend appropriate ways to educate the Californians about the task force’s findings.

    Sanctioned from 1619 to 1865, legalized slavery in the United States deprived more than 4 million Africans and their descendants of citizenship rights and economic opportunity. After it was abolished, government institutions at the federal, state, and local levels perpetuated, condoned, and often profited from practices that disadvantaged African Americans and excluded them from participation in society.

     “On those sugar, rice, and tobacco fields (in the deep south) were opera singers, jazz musicians, novelists, surgeons, attorneys, professors, accountants, and legislators,” Wilkerson said. “How do we know that? Because that is what they and their children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren have often chosen to become.”

    Wilkerson first gained national attention in 1994, when she became the first Black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 1994, while employed as Chicago Bureau Chief of The New York Times.

    Wilkerson’s parents are both from Southern states, but they stayed in Wash., D.C., where she was born, after meeting at Howard University. It was her parents’ migration northward, she says, that inspired her research on an era that helped to shape the country’s current demographics.  

     “Slavery has lasted so long that it will not be until next year, 2022, that the United States would have been a free and independent nation for as long as slavery lasted on this soil,” she said. 

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Arts and Culture

Voices & Visions of Change ™ Scholarship Fundraiser Online Art Sale for AAMLO

The Friends-Stewards of the African American Museum and Library at Oakland (Friends-Stewards of AAMLO), a 501(c)(3) organization, is excited to host Voices & Visions of Change ™ Scholarship Fundraiser Online Art Sale from October 1–16, 2021.

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Friends-Stewards of the African American Museum and Library at Oakland/Facebook

The Friends-Stewards of the African American Museum and Library at Oakland (Friends-Stewards of AAMLO), a 501(c)(3) organization, is excited to host Voices & Visions of Change ™ Scholarship Fundraiser Online Art Sale from October 1–16, 2021.

East Bay award winning painter and sculptor Lawrence H. Buford will present individual Giclee (18” x 24”), Limited Edition, S/N-25, prints of the Honorable Shirley A. Chisholm, U.S. House of Representatives, rendered in graphite and the Honorable John Lewis, U.S. House of Representatives, rendered in watercolor. 

Each beautiful portrait is unframed, printed on conservation grade paper, and accompanied with a Certificate of Authenticity.

For your viewing pleasure, the portraits will be on exhibit starting October 1-16, 2021, at the African American Museum and Library at Oakland (AAMLO), 659 14th St., Oakland, CA 94612, during the hours of operation Mon. – Thurs. 10:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.; Fri. Noon – 5:30 p.m. and Sat. 10:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Buford’s art work was recently displayed in the exhibition titled “Men of Valor” held at the African American Museum and Library at Oakland (AAMLO), January 2019 through September 2019.

This Online Scholarship Fundraiser will help to protect and preserve our cultural and artistic treasures and the stories of our shared history. Your support will enable us to establish pathways to lifelong learning, to inspire, uplift, and educate our community about African American History & Culture for present and future generations.

To support our scholarship fundraiser, please visit https://www.artbylawrence.com/scholarship-fundraiser/ for more information about the portraits available for purchase.

To DONATE or to become a member of the Friends-Stewards of African American Museum and Library at Oakland (Friends-Stewards of AAMLO), please visit our website at www.friendsstewardsofaamlo.org

Please join us to make this event a success!

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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