"When you go to the ride called Soaring at Disney's California Adventure, if you look, you will see the photo of James Herman Banning. He was the first black man to complete a coast to coast journey in the United States. Promise me that you will look for him."
A friend told me this as I packed to go on a trip to California. I had been to Disney before, both locations in the US, and many, many times. I had become a "collector" of "Hidden Mickeys", Mickey Mouse images not obvious at first glance. I wanted more secrets.
My friend obliged. "He died in a crash that could have been prevented. Where they were flying, the airport that they were leaving from, they would not let him have the control of the plane. So, he had to sit in the front seat, with no option except to sit there. There are no controls in that seat. The person who was flying the plane showboated, the engine stalled. They fell to their deaths. They were hauled to a hospital, but he died from his injuries. Really sad, completely avoidable."
I nodded, made a note into my notebook and went on the trip.
I made it to Disneyland, excited for the trip and to see Captain Banning's photo.
The line for the ride was so long on the pretty day that I went that I was unable to get a clean photo of Captain Banning. By the time I got to where the photo was, I was too close. So, I read the information, noted it in my notebook and there it sat, noted but not acknowledged for years.
James Banning was born during a time when racism was rampant and segregation was real. His passion was aviation, but no school would take him because of the color of his skin. His childhood dream was to be in the skies. He was unstoppable. He kept on and on, following his passion until finally, a school accepted him.
The trip cross country was financed one stop at a time, with the attempt being to always stop in cities and towns where either Banning or his mechanic knew someone. When they had problems, that did not always work out. Heavyweight boxer Joe Lewis even came to see the flying school that had educated Banning and donated money to the school.
Banning and his mechanic embraced their nickname, "The Flying Hoboes".
You can read of all of his wonderful accomplishments at Air Space Mag, Wikipedia and many other sources. The tragedy though, is that less than 6 months after he created the record for the first black man that flew coast to coast, a stunning accomplishment, especially with the airplane that they did it in, he would die because of prejudice and hate.
Today, on the anniversary of his death, I honor Captain Banning and his mechanic for their accomplishments and for pushing forward against the harsh odds of hatred and small mindedness. Thank you, for inspiring countless others to pursue their dreams, no matter what the odds seem to say.
Photo credit: Wikipedia, story credit: Wikipedia and online research
I have been looking at records and family trees for my darling fiance. He happens to be black. I have given cursory looks at helpful tools for black families who are doing family history before I was with my fiance, but I am using them a lot more now and I want to share some of the things that I have discovered.
In marriage records in the south, there may be separate books for white and black people. Black families may be called black, negro or colored.
The spelling of names will vary much more wildly than in white records. I have no reason for this, but I am seeing a lot more spellings of last names than in white records.
I would like to give a piece of advice that can save you a lot of time: Lose the term "African American" when looking at old records. It is a 20th century phrase, and to be blunt, my husband to be to be finds it very offensive.
I was on the FamilySearch.org site this weekend, and I discovered that for the time period that I was looking at, there were state marriage records and there were county records. There were white records and colored records. I looked at the state records and I had no success in my search. I looked in county/coloreds and it was there I had success. I found one of my fiance's great uncle's marriage record. It was actually a court paper for a 200.00 marriage bond. I am not done researching the 200.00 bond, and I will write another article about it when I am done, but listed there was the name of his uncle at the turn of the century, with a relative pledging the money for him to get married.
The way that I even learned about the marriage was through this uncle's death certificate. This was probably one of the most detailed death certificates that I have ever seen. It listed his name, place of birth, parents names and places of birth, and spouse name. I then learned why the death certificate was so detailed. This was a death certificate issued as a result of a homicide. The uncle was murdered. The shooting happened in September, but he did not die until the early part of November. He basically died of complications from the shooting: toxemia and uremia as a result of being shot in the stomach with a revolver. Having never viewed a death certificate from a gunshot before, I have to say, the amount of information that is contained is very detailed. For a genealogist, it is very rich with family facts.
As I mentioned above, this certificate lists names and places, and it lists birth and death dates. I find it very interesting to note that his wife had already passed. At the time of his death, he was less than 55 years old.
I am now searching for what happened to this person between the marriage and his death. It is proving to be very elusive, but hopefully, I will find something.
I write a lot about genetic genealogy, family trees, DNA, and home life as well as the occasional product review. Comments? Email me at CocktailsAndSwagger@Hotmail.com