Today in Aviation, Ruth Carol Taylor, the first African American Flight Attendant in the United States, performs her duties for the first time in 1958.
Taylor had initially trained as a nurse before deciding she would like to become a Flight Attendant. She first applied to Trans World Airlines (TWA) in 1957. However, her application was rejected because of the color of her skin.
This angered Taylor, and she filed a complaint against TWA with the New York State Commission of Discrimination. No action was brought against the airline. But other companies began to re-think their policies on hiring ‘minority’ crew members.
Mohawk Makes History
One such company was Mohawk Airlines (MO), and when the airline opened up its recruitment, 800 African-Americans applied. Taylor was the only successful candidate and was hired in December 1957.
Her first flight was from Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport (ITH) to New York (JFK). This ground-breaking moment led TWA to reverse its decision and hire Margaret Grant, the first major US carrier to hire an African-American.
Sadly, Taylor’s time at MO was short-lived. While her hiring broke racial barriers within the industry, it would be another regulation of the time that would lead to her departure just six months after she was hired. Being a married woman was forbidden by airlines at the time.
Taylor had been engaged before being hired by the airline. As her wedding day approached, she was forced to resign.
Continuing the Fight
Her fight for racial equality didn’t stop when she left Mohawk. Taylor continued working to improve civil rights, reporting on the 1963 March on Washington and becoming an activist for consumer affairs and women’s rights.
Speaking to JET Magazine in 1995, Taylor admitted that she had never wanted to become a Flight Attendant. She merely did it to break the racial barriers that existed in the industry, “It irked me that people were not allowing people of color to apply…Anything like that sets my teeth to grinding.”
Featured image: Ruth Carol Taylor. Photo: Fair use