In a ceremony in Houston yesterday Continental Airlines named one of its Boeing 737s in honour of its late Captain Marlon Green, who won a landmark legal battle to become the first African American pilot hired by a major US passenger airline.
Green family members with Continental employees, including CEO Jeff Smisek (fourth from left in front row), who presented a 737 model to the Green family. (Continental)
The Smithsonian's Air & Space Magazine has a wonderful profile on "aviation's Jackie Robinson". An excerpt:
He filled out applications to United, Pan American, Eastern, Western, and others, and got nowhere. Then in June 1957, he was invited to interview with Continental, but only after leaving the box for "race" unchecked on his application. He made it to the final round of six applicants, all of whom were white except Green. He was one of two not hired, even though the successful candidates all had less than 1,000 hours in multi-engine aircraft, compared to Green's nearly 3,000.A unanimous Supreme Court decision in 1963 meant that Green, a former B-26 pilot for the Air Force, could take to the skies in the right seat at Continental in January 1966.
The case, however, required enormous hardship on Green. His brother Jim remarked to the Houston Chronicle: "He lost his dignity, his honor, his self-esteem, all of his savings, and he was reduced to menial work like cleaning milk cans."
Green eventually captained Boeing 707s. He flew with Continental for 14 years until his retirement in 1978. He passed away last July at the age of 80.
The Chronicle says the honour is the first time Continental has publicly acknowledged Green's contribution. Jeff Smisek, Continental's chairman, president and CEO said: "The fact that we did this shows how regretful we are about our history, and we took the opportunity to honor Captain Green because it's important to us."
The idea to name an aircraft after Green originated from Continental Captain Ray-Sean Silvera. At the same ceremony Silvera was appointed assistant chief pilot for Continental. Silvera becomes the first African-American pilot to hold the post at Continental.
A reader of the Air & Space article commented:
I remember Green as a very talented pilot and a real gentleman. He was the only black flying officer in the squadron, but he was one of the best. I wished him the best when he decided to leave the Air Force a year later. I'm glad he was eventually successful in his pursuit of a commercial pilot job. He was a true ground-breaker.
The 737 named in honour of Green. (Continental)