Skip to main content


James Herman Banning: The Trailblazing African American Aviator

“Discover the Remarkable Journey of James Herman Banning: The Trailblazing African American Aviator”

Black Wall St. MediaContributor
The Trailblazing African American Aviator

On the 15th of November, in the year 1899, a legend was born. James Herman Banning, an African American aviator, entered this world in Oklahoma.

The Trailblazing African American Aviator

The Trailblazing African American Aviator

His life’s journey would be nothing short of extraordinary, as he battled against racial discrimination to achieve his dreams and soar through the skies as the first Black aviator to obtain a license from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Born to Riley and Cora Banning, young James had aviation in his blood, his dreams of taking to the skies beginning from boyhood.

As he grew, he nurtured a fervent desire to become a pilot, but the reality of the times was harsh. In a deeply segregated and discriminatory America, flight schools had their doors firmly shut to him because of the color of his skin. But James Banning was undeterred, and he found his own path to the skies.

A Rocky Path to the Skies With no flight schools willing to train him, James Banning’s determination led him to a unique opportunity.

He learned to fly from an army aviator at Raymond Fisher’s Flying Field in Des Moines. This moment marked a turning point, not only in his life but in the history of aviation.

Banning was on his way to becoming a pioneer. His persistence paid off when, in 1926, James Banning achieved a monumental feat.

He became the first Black aviator to obtain a license from the U.S. Department of Commerce, shattering racial barriers that had kept African Americans grounded for far too long. His achievement was not only a personal victory but a momentous step towards equality in aviation.

A Multi-Talented Trailblazer James Banning’s talents extended far beyond the cockpit. He was not just a pilot; he also operated the J.H. Banning Auto Repair Shop in Ames from 1922 to 1928.

In addition to his mechanical skills, he was an advocate for breaking down racial barriers in aviation. In 1929, he made the bold decision to move to Los Angeles.

There, he took on the role of the chief pilot for the Bessie Coleman Aero Club, named in honor of Bessie Coleman, the first African American woman to hold a pilot’s license.

During his time in Los Angeles, James Banning became a demonstration pilot, an inspiration to many. He flew a biplane named “Miss Ames,” a tribute to his days in the Midwest.

He continued to break ground as an aviator, showcasing the skill and determination it took to achieve greatness. A Historic Journey: Coast-to-Coast Flight The pinnacle of James Banning’s career came in 1932, when he and another pioneering Black pilot, Thomas C. Allen, embarked on an extraordinary journey.

They made history by becoming the first Black aviators to fly coast-to-coast, traveling from Los Angeles to Long Island, New York.

Their journey was not without its challenges. Flying a plane assembled from spare parts and salvaged from junkyards, they completed the 3,300-mile trip in less than 42 hours in the air.

The significance of this achievement is immeasurable. They were not just flying across the country; they were soaring above racial prejudice and limitations. However, the trip was not without its difficulties.

During the journey, Banning and Allen had to stop multiple times to raise funds, turning their coast-to-coast flight into a 21-day adventure. Despite these challenges, they proved that determination and a shared dream could break through even the most formidable barriers.

A Tragic End to a Pioneering Life James Banning’s remarkable journey was cut tragically short. In 1933, while participating in an air show in San Diego, California, he met with a devastating accident.

He was a passenger in a biplane flown by a Navy pilot, which stalled and entered an unrecoverable spin. The plane crashed in front of hundreds of horrified spectators, tragically claiming the life of this pioneering aviator. Though his life was cut short, James Banning’s legacy lives on, and his contributions to aviation and the fight against racial discrimination continue to inspire.

His determination to defy gravity and social expectations opened up the skies for countless African American aviators who followed his trailblazing path.

We remember and honour James Banning, an extraordinary aviator who, against all odds, left an indelible mark on the history of aviation and civil rights. 

His story is a testament to the power of determination and passion in the face of adversity.

Black Wall St. MediaContributor

Leave a Reply