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Storming the Heavens: African Americans and the Early Fight for the Right to Fly

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The recent Hollywood film Hidden Figures presents a portrait of how African American women shaped the US effort in aerospace during the height of Jim Crow. In Storming the Heavens, Gerald Horne presents the necessary back story to this account and goes further to detail the earlier struggle of African Americans to gain the right to fly.

This struggle involved pioneers like Bessie Coleman, who traveled to World War I-era Paris in order to gain piloting skills that she was denied in her US homeland; and John Robinson from Chicago via Mississippi, who traveled to 1930s Ethiopia and became the leading pilot for this beleaguered African nation as it withstood an invasion from fascist Italy, eventually becoming the personal pilot of His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie, and a founder of Ethiopian Airways. Additionally, Horne adds nuance to the oft-told tale of the Tuskegee Airmen and goes further to discuss the role of US pilots during the Korean war in the early 1950s. He also tells the story of how and why US airlines were fought when they began to fly into South Africa — and how planes from this land of apartheid were protested when they landed at US airports.

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