Dr. Lewis A. Jackson (1912-1994)


Every February, Black History Month evokes a few iconic names in aviation, most notably the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II fame and Bessie Coleman, the first black woman pilot.

The many Tuskegee Airmen and Coleman make great role models for us all. When the sky beckoned, they refused to allow segregation and bigotry to keep them from answering. They destroyed myths and broke down barriers to opportunity.

But let's not dwell on past successes to the point that we ignore what's happening — or not happening — today.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the black population in 2005 was 39.7 million, or 13.4 percent. The 2006 female population (of all races) was 152 million, or more than half the population.

But what are the percentages of minorities and females with pilot's licenses?

According to Women in Aviation International, only 6 percent of all U.S. pilots with commercial ratings in 2005 were female. Less than 4 percent of pilots with airline ratings were women.

The percentages of blacks and other minorities among U.S. pilots are so low it's hard to find meaningful statistics. A 1997 National Academies report, "Taking Flight: Education and Training for Aviation Careers" found 92 percent of U.S. airline pilots in 1990 were white men, compared with 43 percent in the civilian labor force. Less than 2 percent were black and less than 3 percent hispanic.

What Bessie Colemen, the Tuskegee Airmen and others started decades ago remains unfinished. Minorities and women are woefully underrepresented in America's sky.

In 2007, Sinclair Community College in Dayton took announced the creation of an aviation scholarship program for African American students. The scholarship is named for the late Dr. Lewis A. Jackson, a pioneering Ohio airman and educator.

Born in Angola, IN on Dec. 29, 1912, Dr. Jackson had a passion for aviation from childhood. According to a biographical sketch attributed to his widow, Dr. Violet Jackson, he learned to fly in the early 1930s and barnstormed across Indiana and Ohio from 1932 to 1939, earning money for college. He earned a bachelor's degree in education from Indiana Wesleyan University in 1939.

Dr. Jackson taught public school while continuing his aviation activities. He joined Cornelius Coffey in Chicago, where Coffey opened a flying school on Harlem Field, a segregated airport. He undertook additional training — including aircraft mechanics — at different places around the country before moving to Tuskegee, Alabama, to be director of training at the Army Air Force 66th Flight Training Detachment at Moton Field — the primary flight training site for the famous Tuskegee Airmen.

After World War II, Jackson moved to Ohio, where he worked as a federal flight examiner for 13 years. He earned a master's degree from Miami University in 1948, and a Ph.D. in higher education from Ohio State University in 1950. He held many positions at Central State University in Wilberforce, including acting president. In 1974, he fostered the Business Entrepreneur Program at Sinclair Community College.

A lifelong pursuit was designing a "roadable" airplane. Dr. Jackson was a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association in Greene County and a member of the county airport authority.

Dr. Jackson's legacy lives on. His family made a major donation to Indiana Wesleyan for a library, which bears his name today. Also named for him is the Greene County Lewis A Jackson Regional Airport.

More aviation scholarships and programs

American Historical Association
Fellowships in aerospace history

Astronaut Scholarship Foundation
Scholarships in science and engineering

ATCA Scholarships Program
Air Traffic Control Association

Aviation Scholarship Foundation
Flight training scholarships for teens in Illinois and Indiana

Aviation scholarships
Louisiana Tech listing of aviation scholarships, some specifically for African-Americans

Links to various aviation scholarship programs

Federal Aviation Administration
Links to many scholarships and grant programs, some for minorities and women, in aviation and other fields

Texas Space Grant Consortium
Scholarships and fellowships for students attending TSGC institutions

Women in Aviation International
Information about scholarships available to WAI members