Coleman, Coffey, and the Condor

Chicago's Pioneering African American Aviators


Three pioneering Chicago African American aviators had impact on aviation both inside and outside the U.S. This is the story of Bessie Coleman, Cornelius Coffey, and John C. Robinson, also known as the Brown Condor. These three Chicago aviators broke overcame obstacles paving the way for the aviation industry to receive the benefit provided by aviators of color.

See how Queen Bess, or Bessie Coleman, faced the dual obstacles of being black and female, forcing her to France where she received her license in 1921.

Learn how a pair of auto mechanics with a passion for aviation, Cornelius Coffey and Johnny Robinson, gained admittance to the prestigious Curtiss-Wright Aeronautical University becoming the first blacks to receive their Aircraft and Engine License. Follow their story as they form a flying club enabling other blacks to learn to fly and maintain airplanes as well as creating the first black owned-and-operated airport.

See how Robinson’s failed efforts in 1934 to get his alma mater, Tuskegee Institute, to implement an aviation program came to fruition five years later earning him the honor of becoming the “Father of Tuskegee Airmen.

Learn about Robinson, who in the following year went to Ethiopia to aid Africa’s only remaining independent country repel aggression from Italian Fascists. In his service, he became commander of the country’s air force. Escaping to the states when Ethiopia fell in 1936 the press hailed him as the Brown Condor. His service was the first by an American of any race to fight Fascist aggression.

Discover how Coffey’s flight school became one of the few accepted in the government-sponsored Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) turning out hundreds of aviators, many of whom went on to become Tuskegee Airmen.

Find out how Robinson struggled after his return from Ethiopia until after the war. Ethiopian’s Emperor invited Robinson back to rebuild the air force an later develop a commercial airline. Both his efforts provided models for other African nations as they shed their colonial structure.

The presenter, Michael Haupt, has spent decades exploring the extent of aviation activity in and around Chicago, especially about the early part of the 20th Century. His book, Aviation Chicago Timeline, is regarded by many as the definitive history of aviation activities in Chicago and Northern Illinois.