J. Herman Banning (1899–1933)
From Into the Blue: American Writers on Aviation and Spaceflight
In 1926 James Herman Banning became the first African American in the United States to earn a pilot’s license when the Department of Commerce awarded him license #1,324. He gave up his career as an auto mechanic and over the next eight years made ends meet as a barnstormer, working at many airshows and logging over 800 flight hours. In 1932 he and Thomas Allen, short of funds but hoping to be the first African Americans to fly cross-country, formed the “Flying Hoboes,” so called because they made frequent stops to earn enough money to finish the trip.
As they made their way from Los Angeles, they gained an increasing amount of press coverage and when they reach Pittsburgh, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidential campaign arranged to pay for the rest of the flight. In exchange, the Flying Hoboes dropped 15,000 campaign flyers en route in Philadelphia and other Pennsylvania cities. They finally finished their 3,613-mile trip, landing at Curtiss Airport in Valley Stream, Long Island. New York City mayor Jimmy Walker gave them the traditional keys to the city, a parade in their honor was held in Harlem, and the Democratic Party footed the bill for rebuilding their ramshackle, flight-worn plane.
Soon after Banning completed the trip, he wrote two articles for the Pittsburgh Courier. His second piece, “The Day I Sprouted Wings,” describes the unusual circumstances of his very first solo flight, made in a plane he had assembled himself. Only six weeks after he wrote this article, back in California for an airshow on February 5, 1933, the thirty-three-year-old pilot was killed in a plane crash—while flying as a passenger.
Source: Distinguished African Americans in Aviation and Space Science, by Betty Kaplan Gubert, Miriam Sawyer, and Caroline M. Fannin (2002).
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