"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 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