By TIA LYONS
El Dorado News-Times Staff
In 1963, El Dorado native Marlon DeWitt Green presented a case before the U.S. Supreme Court to become a commercial airline pilot at a time when no black pilots were being considered for work at major U.S. airlines.
Now Green’s life and courageous struggle have been documented in the passionate new book, “Turbulence Before Takeoff: The Life and Times of Aviation Pioneer Marlon DeWitt Green.”
Written by Pulitzer-nominated author and military historian Flint Whitlock, “Turbulence” will officially be released on Tuesday, according to a statement from Cable Publishing, Inc.
The 420-page book weaves together Green’s childhood years spent in the 1920s and 30s in the Fairview Addition in El Dorado and the events in his life that led up to his eight-year battle to become the first black commercial airline pilot in the U.S.
“Turbulence” does not shy away from the intimate and often unsettling details of Green’s hard-fought effort to break the color barrier in the U.S. airline industry.
Whitlock sets Green’s personal life – he married a white woman at a time when such unions were taboo and illegal in some states – against the backdrop of the turbulent 60s, when the country was ripe with racial strife.
After converting to Roman Catholicism at a young age, Green, an exemplary student, landed a scholarship to the all-black Xavier Preparatory School in New Orleans.
He graduated co-valedictorian of his class, and after a stint in seminary, where he was preparing to become a priest, Green enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1947, a time when the U.S. Armed Forces had just begun to desegregate.
In 2004, Green told the News-Times that in 1935 his father gave him and one of his brothers – Green had three brothers and a sister – toy replicas of the Clippers, the “flying boats” that Pan-American World Airways used at the time to span the oceans.
“We had a lot of play-action with them, landing them on water, and I remember the primary colors on the plane were white and blue. That was the first indication of any interest I had in handling airplanes,” Green said at the time.
While stationed in Oahu, Ha., Green worked for the 1500th Aviation Engineer Battalion in construction and maintenance. There, his childhood interest in airplanes resurfaced as he would watch planes land and take off while digging ditches on the military base.
Green began assisting in flight operations and decided to train to become a pilot, but because of his skin color, the request was repeatedly denied until his application was pushed forward by his commanding officers.
He successfully completed basic cadet pilot training and was eventually stationed in Japan, where he learned that commercial airlines in the U.S. had announced plans to end discriminatory policies and practices.
Green returned stateside after nine years of active duty and settled in Lansing, Mich., where he was promoted to captain. He left the Air Force in 1957 to earn more money to support his growing family – he and wife Eleanor Gallagher had six children.
He sought work as a pilot for passenger carriers and quickly learned that efforts by the U.S. airline industry to end discrimination were practiced in words only.
Applications to more than 10 carriers were rejected, and Green was unceremoniously informed by one commercial airline recruiter that he could not work for the airline because he was black.
He applied to Continental Airlines, based in Denver, and purposely left blank the space that requested his race. He also opted not to include a photograph with his application.
Green was called to Denver for an interview and flight tests, but when he showed up, he was again turned down, even though he had logged more flight hours than five, less-experienced white pilots who were hired by Continental at that time.
He filed a lawsuit against the airline under Colorado’s anti-discrimination law and was represented pro bono by attorney T. Raber Taylor, who was known for devoting his time to cases that involved civil rights violations.
Green’s case was struck down by the Colorado Supreme Court, but it worked its way through the federal courts, eventually reaching the U.S. Supreme Court.
Guided by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 1963 that Continental Airlines had discriminated against Green. As a result of that landmark decision, Green, then 33, was offered a job by Continental and flew for the airline from 1965 until he retired in 1978.
While Green’s dogged determination paved the way for black pilots who came after him and led to the formation of the Organization of Black Airline Pilots, his fight was a costly one that took a toll on his personal life and resulted in a family tragedy.
The details of those experiences are heartbreakingly recounted in “Turbulence.”
According to information provided by Cable Publishing, Green now lives in an assisted living facility, not far from Whitlock’s Denver, Colo., home.
“Turbulence” includes 75 family and historical photos. The cost for the hardcover is $24.95, and the soft cover is $17.95. For more information about how to purchase the book, contact Nan Wisherd at Cable Publishing by calling (715) 372-8499 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
(The El Dorado News-Times, Saturday, January 31, Volume 119, Number 90, Pages 1 and 3).