Black Wings: African American Pioneer Aviators
This lesson is a modified version of one that appears in African American Pioneers in Aviation, a teachers guide produced by the education department at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum .
U.S. History (from the National Center for History in the Schools)
- Standard 1 Chronological Thinking – Reconstruct patterns of historical succession and duration.
- Standard 2 Historical Comprehension – Reconstruct the literal meaning of a historical passage. Identify the central question(s) the historical narrative addresses. Read historical narratives imaginatively. Draw upon visual, literary, and musical sources.
- Standard 3 Historical Analysis and Interpretation – Identify the author or source of the historical document or narrative. Compare and contrast differing sets of ideas, values, personalities, behaviors, and institutions.
- Standard 4 Historical Research Capabilities – Formulate historical questions. Obtain historical data. Interrogate historical data.
- Standard 5 Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision Making – Identify issues and problems in the past. Marshal evidence of antecedent circumstances and contemporary factors contributing to problems and alternative courses of action.
Language Arts (from the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English Standards for the English Language Arts)
- Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, of the cultures of the United States, and the world.
- Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.
- Students use spoken, written, visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Students will explore information based on primary and secondary source materials, including first-person accounts, newspaper articles, and archival photographs, in order to:
- Learn about the challenges faced by African Americans as they created their own opportunities in the field of aviation.
- Gain essential details about the lives of important people in the field of aviation through a guided reading activity.
- Write a short creative-writing piece demonstrating their understanding of the lesson material.
- Reproducibles: Primary and secondary sources
Make copies of the following primary and secondary sources and worksheets:
For Part I
- Photographic portraits and biographies of:
o William J. Powell (portrait: click here ) (bio: click here )
o C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson (portrait: click here ) (bio: click here )
o Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. (portrait: click here ) (bio: click here )
- Overcoming Obstacles worksheet (click here)
- Article: "Aviatrix Must Sign Life Away To Learn Trade," Chicago Defender, October 8, 1921 (click here )
- Photograph of billboard reading "Colored Air Circus" (1931)(click here )
- Publicity flyer for William Powell’s book, Black Wings, "One Million Jobs for Negroes" (1934) (click here )
- Letter of December 21, 1942, to Dr. William H. Hastie, civilian aide to the Secretary of War, from Gilbert A. Cargill (click here )
- Photographic portrait and biography of Willa B. Brown (click here )
- Letter of December 6, 1941, to Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, from Willa B. Brown (click here )
- Letter Comparison worksheet (click here )
- Secondary Source: African American Pioneer Aviators (click here )
- Distribute copies of the three biographies.
- Have students read the biographies. Ask them to consider the obstacles the pilots encountered during their careers.
- Divide the class into small groups to complete the Overcoming Obstacles worksheet together. Have one student from each group report back to the class.
- Distribute copies of the Part II Reproducibles.
- Divide the class into small groups and have them read the materials and complete the Letter Comparison worksheet.
- Discuss the items as a class. Focus the discussion on the following question: How do these materials illustrate the ideas that you recorded in the Letter Comparison and Overcoming Obstacles worksheets?
Using the Overcoming Obstacles worksheet as a guide have the students, in the voice of one of the aviators featured in this lesson, write a diary entry in which they discuss the difficulties and successes in their efforts to become an aviator. Alternative: Have students write about a situation in which they encountered difficulties doing something they really wanted to do. The essay should include what they did to overcome the difficulties and what they learned about themselves.
Suggestions and Extensions
- To build background knowledge consider showing the film (video or DVD Tuskegee Airmen, 1995).
- Have the students create a poster promoting the Tuskegee Airmen.
- Have the students conduct a news interview with students portraying Anderson, Davis, Powell, and the newscasters. The topic of the interview: Overcoming Obstacles.
- Have the students create a collage about early African American aviation. Give the collage a theme or title. Photocopy the images in this lesson; enlarge or alter them to fit the theme of the collage. Assemble the collage—color, paint, cut the images, and position them to suit the theme.