David E. Harris, America’s First Black Commercial Airline Captain, Passes Away

American Airlines has issued a statement mourning the death of Captain David E. Harris, the first African American to become a captain for a commercial airline in the United States.

Captain David E. Harris was the first African American pilot to operate a commercial aircraft for a major airline. According to NBC, he was born in 1934 in Columbus, Ohio, and graduated from Ohio State University. Despite being denied enrollment into the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps twice due to racial discrimination, he was ultimately allowed to join. After enlisting in the Air Force in 1958, he flew B-17 and B-52 bombers and was promoted to captain. He retired from the Air Force and joined American Airlines in 1964. He retired in 1997 at the age of 89.

Robert Isom, CEO, said, “We are deeply saddened by the passing of Captain David E. Harris, an aviation pioneer who was hired by American Airlines in 1964 and became the first African American pilot for a commercial airline. Captain Harris opened doors and inspired countless African American pilots to pursue their dreams of flying. We are committed to honoring his legacy by continuing to ensure access to careers in the aviation industry and opportunities for those who did not know it was possible. On behalf of all employees at American Airlines, our thoughts are with Captain Harris’s family, friends, and colleagues during this difficult time.”

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