C. Alfred "Chief" Anderson
The Most Famous Black Aviator in America
By John Sherrer
Originally published in the November, 1976 edition of Pride Magazine, Dayton, Ohio
C. Alfred Anderson ("C" for Charles) is the owner of the Tuskegee Institute Flying School, Tuskegee Institute, Alabama. He's a pioneer aviator whose accomplishments and involvement span a period of almost fifty years.
Mr. Anderson's notable achievements were carried out despite certain inherent difficulties associated with the times. Through his dedication, fortitude, desire, and concern for his fellowman, he pushed forward in the thirties towards establishing good relations among all people and inspiring the youth of that day a realization of innovative possibilities for advancement through aviation.
An article from the October 1934 edition of The Tuskegee Messenger gives an in-depth account of the greatness of this famous black aviator. It reads: 'Of all epoch-making events in which Tuskegee Institute has had a share, perhaps none is more significant of her forward look than the christening here on September 15 of the monoplane Booker T. Washington flown by Dr. Albert E. Forsythe and Mr. C. Alfred Anderson.
"The christening ceremonies were held on the Chambliss Children's House parade grounds before the faculty of students, community, and hundreds of visitors from the surrounding towns. The Institute Band and a military guard of honor escorted the dapper orange and black plane around the corner of the building to its place in front of the grandstand where were seated President and Mrs. Moton, Mrs. E.S. Gibbs, Montgomery, Alabama, vice-president-at-large of the Alabama State Federation of Colored Women's Club, members of the family of Booker T. Washington, and members of the Executive Council and of the Alumni Association.
"As she splintered over the end of the plane a bottle in which mingled water from the River Jordan and from the artesian wells of Tuskegee Institute, Mrs. R.R. Moton pronounced in a clear voice, 'I christen this plane the Booker T. Washington.' Earlier in the program Nettle H. Washington, granddaughter of Booker T. Washington, welcomed the flyers on behalf of the student body and presented them a bouquet of roses.
"The President in a short, forceful address emphasized the significance to the Negro race of the vision of Dr. Forsythe and Mr. Anderson, the just pride that Tuskegee feels in Dr. Forsythe and in his flying partner, the joy and satisfaction that comes to Tuskegee and to her President to have an opportunity to share in the proposed Pan-American Good Will Flight.
"President Moton presented Mr. Anderson, the only licensed transport pilot of the Negro race, for a few remarks. Mr. Anderson very modestly insisted that he was an aviator and not a speaker. He stated that early in September he and Dr. Forsythe flew from Atlantic City to St. Louis in the 'Spirit of Atlantic City' which had been turned in by Dr. Forsythe, the owner, for this plane there before the crowd to be christened, the Booker T. Washington. The new plane is a Lambert 30 horse power Deluxe Monocoupe with a cruising range of 1,000 miles and a cruising speed of 120 miles. Mr. Anderson stated that their objective was a series of Good Will flights. The first of the series was the round trip trans-continental flight in July, 1933. The second was in November of the same year and took these Negro pioneers of the air into Canada. The proposed Pan-American flight will be the third in the series.
"Dr. Forsythe who was next introduced, told of the purpose of the flights, the organization behind them, something of the expense attached to the expedition and gave the outline of the Pan-American trip.
"Some people may be inclined to suggest," said Dr. Forsythe, "that Mr. Anderson and I are risking our lives just for the thrill, or for some cheap publicity, but such is far far from the truth. First of all we are anxious to establish friendly relations between the various peoples of the earth with the hope of gaining favorable worldwide attitudes toward the darker races. We are desirous of increasing race pride and confidence and especially of inspiring our youth and awakening in our people generally a realization of new possibilities for advancement. To further our purpose the interracial Goodwill Aviation Committee was organized among members of the colored race to sponsor these flights."
"This committee already has in hand $800 which is approximately the amount necessary for the operation and maintenance for the proposed flight. For blind flying and special navigation instruments $2,400 is still needed. Two parachutes which will cost $600 would add considerable to the peace of mind of the flyers, but are yet to be supplied. But whether or not we get this added equipment, we hope to take off for the West Indies and Central America on November 8."
"At the mention of no parachutes a murmur of surprise and uneasiness ran through the crowd. President Moton and the others on the grand stand sat a little straighter in their chairs and looked at these two modest, self-possessed earnest young men as though seeing them for the first time. Mrs. Moton and Mrs. Gibbs exchanged quiet smiles.
"At the close of Dr. Forsythe's speech, to which the crowd had responded with rounds and rounds of applause, President Moton presented Mrs. E.S. Gibbs representing the Alabama State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs. Mrs. Gibbs in a most charming manner commended the flyers. She stated that in June at the annual session of the Federation much enthusiasm had been shown by the women when they were told of the proposed flight in the interest of interracial good will.
"Like everything worthwhile that comes under the direction of our Federation president, Mrs. Moton, this enthusiasm was at once converted into something constructive - a contribution was voted to be made toward the expenses of the flight. It is my very great pleasure at this time, on behalf of the president and members of the State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, to present you this check for $50.00."
"Scarcely had Mrs. Gibbs finished when a note was passed to Mrs. Moton from the crowd. She read it and passed it on to Dr. Moton, who was about to rise to say a closing word before dismissing the crowd.
"I am going to say some things now that I had no intention of saying. First of all, I want to congratulate Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Moton and the other women of the state for what they have done for these young men. It is just another evidence of what we call women's intuition - that means that they think of things before the men do. Of course, they sometimes think wrong, but this is one time they were absolutely wise. This note that has just been handed to me is another evidence. It is from a woman in this community. ( I shall not read her name); she says, 'Here is $10.00 to help get some of those instruments that are needed to make the trip safer for these courageous young men of our race.' Now I am going to appoint a committee with Mrs. Moton as chairman to get to work right away to collect money for a further contribution toward this flight. I feel sure that none of us would ever forgive ourselves if we let these two young representatives of the Negro race go out into danger without the safeguards that we by a little self-denial perhaps, can help to supply. They certainly ought to have parachutes and of course, the other things too."
"The next morning, shortly after five o'clock, the Booker T. Washington took off from the school farm where it has landed on Friday afternoon before some three hundred spectators who seemed to have sprung as from planted dragons teeth along the home of Mr. & Mrs. Theodore Nofles for delightful talk of the old days.
Dr. Moton accepted the invitation to become a member of the advisory Council of the Interracial Goodwill Aviation Committee of which Miss Julia Goens, Atlantic City, is chairman."
In a letter dated April 4, 1976, Mr. Anderson reminisced about his illustrious flying career: "Ever since childhood, I possessed a strong yearning to fly airplanes. When I was about twenty years old in 1927-28, I had saved enough money to take a few lessons but immediately ran into racial problems because no one would accept a black student. In the latter part of 1928 or 1929 I had saved about $500, borrowed $2,500 more from friends and bought a small plane. Then I had to depend upon pilot who was kind enough to advise me and fly with me. I finally soloed and was able to get a Private Pilot license, No. 7638, in August, 1929. Due to lack of experience and advice, I lost that airplane and another one.
"After being chased away from various airports, I finally found a friend in the person of Mr. Ernest Buehl, a German air force pilot in World War I, who migrated to this country and started an airport in Philadelphia known as the Flying Dutchman. Under his guidance and instruction I finally received a transport license in 1932, after his personal request to the flight officials that I be permitted to take a written examination and flight test to qualify for a commercial license.
[NOTE: Following by Ms. Rosanna Buehl, granddaughter of Mr. Ernest Buehl:
"While it is true that my grandfather was in the German military during WWI, he served as a cook in the infantry on the Russian front. His only contribution to German military aviation was when he worked for BMW. At that time, Fokker was having some trouble with his aircraft and demanded that BMW send their "best man" to diagnose and fix his problem. When my grandfather showed up, then about 19 years old, Fokker hit the roof complaining that BMW has sent "ein kind." In under an hour, my grandfather had not only diagnosed Fokker's mechanical troubles but had fixed them to boot.
In 1932, when he and Mr. Anderson met, Ernest Buehl was an American citizen with a pilot's license signed by Orville Wright and owner of the first flying school in Pennsylvania, located near Philadelphia."]
"I then met a wonderful life-long friend in the person of Dr. Albert Forsythe. He, too, was keenly interested in flying. He bought an airplane from Mr. Buehl, and I taught him how to fly; and together we made many flying trips which were firsts for blacks: a round trip continental flight in 1934 and various trips throughout the United States and Canada. I vaguely recall a write-up in TIME about two 'blackbirds' who were attempting to fly across the U.S.
"Dr._Forsythe and I were the first blacks to fly to the Bahamas and the West Indies and on to South America. We landed the first airplane over in Nassau which at the time had no airport. PanAm was using seaplanes.
"In the late thirties I started the Civilian Pilot Training for Howard University, Washington, D.C. One of my students, Yancey Williams, won a suit against the government to get blacks into the Army/Air Force. Some of these original students became high-ranking aviation-oriented officers.
"In 1940 Dr. F.D. Patterson, President-Emeritus of Tuskegee Institute, visited me at Howard to discuss flying at Tuskegee Institute. After going to the Chicago School of Aviation to take a flight course, in acrobatics, I picked up an airplane which the Institute had purchased and flew it to Tuskegee; thus becoming the first black pilot employed by the school. Black aviation was born here.
"During a visit to Tuskegee Institute, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, asked me to take her for a flight over the area against the tremendous opposition of her entourage. Mrs. Roosevelt was willing to risk her life with one of us because she saw no reason why black could not fly. Shortly thereafter, Tuskegee Institute was selected to participate in a program with the U.S. Army Corps to find out if blacks could measure up as military pilots. Their records speak for themselves.
"I suppose that two of these with whom I worked, Lieutenant General Benjamin B.O. Davis Jr. (Ret.) and General Daniel (Chappie) James, Commander of the North American Air Defense Command, are the two most well-known individuals.
"After the close of WWII and the intitution of ROTC flight programs by the U.S. Government, I starting teaching those cadets enrolled in the programs to fly. I cannot now say how many individuals I have taught to fly nor can I say how many hours I have spent in the air with this objective.
"Through the ROTC programs and a flight program sponsored by Negro Airman International, Inc., I still devote my efforts to introduce to as many black youth as possible, in flight orientation, the opportunities in aviation for blacks as being outstanding, in light of the various affirmative action programs which are now required of industry and institutions."
Recipient of numerous awards and citations, Mr. Anderson has received - to name a few - the Distinguished Service Award from Mayor Johnny Ford of Tuskegee, Alabama (October 4, 1974), Citation from Governor Milton Shapp of Pennsylvania (September, 1973), Don Flower Award for Aviation Safety (October 23, 1971), Proficiency Award from the Southeast Air Corps Training Center (August 23, 1941), and Honorary Member Negro Airman International (July 12, 1973).
Also Certified as Private Pilot Examiner by the U.S. Department of Commerce (February 28, 1946), Award from the Republic of Haiti (November 16, 1934), Citation from the City of Philadelphia (September 27, 1973), Performance Award (October 27, 1973), Certificate for Refresher Course at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama (August 11, 1973), and Goodwill Aviator Award from British Guiana (December 14, 1934).
A stout effort is being made by Bennie J. McRae Jr., of Dayton, to have this outstanding aviator enshrined in the Aviation Hall of Fame. In a letter to the Nominating Committee, Mr. McRae wrote:...In honor to a great American and an outstanding aviator who is still very active today, I submit to you on this 12th day of April 1976 supporting documents to be used by the committee in its deliberations and hopefully eventual selection for enshrinement of Mr. C. Alfred Anderson into the Aviation Hall of Fame .
"Along with many others, I feel that Mr. Anderson deserves a place among and with other outstanding Americans enshrined along the walls of your great institution. Additional supporting documents and endorsements will be added to this initial presentation in the very near future.'
(Documents and materials for this article were submitted by Bennie J. McRae, Jr., of Dayton, Ohio.)