The skies weren’t always so friendly to black people. In the mid-1950s, the handful of black employees working for the major U.S. carriers were in service positions, and all the pilots (male only) and flight attendants (stewardesses or hostesses, in the vernacular of the day, and female only) were white, until Feb. 11, 1958, when Carol Taylor, born in 1931, made her inaugural flight for Mohawk Airlines as its “first Negro airline hostess.”
The airline industry had been under increasing pressure by civil rights groups to hire African Americans. Taylor and another African-American woman, Dorothy Franklin, backed by New York’s State Commission Against Discrimination, had applied to TWA for a stewardess position; both were rejected.
At the same time, likely motivated more by a desire for publicity than to integrate, the Ithaca, N.Y.-based Mohawk Airlines was seeking to hire a black stewardess. Taylor suspected that the fact that she was “near-white enough with aquiline features, so-called” and had “answered the questions about race in the way I knew they wanted them answered” moved hers to the top of the pile of 800 applications. For six months Taylor worked at what she later called “an upstairs-maid job” and was never once asked to join the rest of the crew for meals.
After Mohawk, Taylor threw herself into grassroots and civil rights activism. She founded the group Negro Women on the March and participated in the March on Washington. At the end of 1963 she moved to Barbados, where she founded the island’s first professional nursing school and fought for consumer rights and women’s rights. In 1977 she returned to New York City, where she was determined to do something about the divisions that plagued the country. In 1982, collaborating with the psychologist Mari P. Saunders, Taylor invented the Racism/Colorism Quotient, or R/CQ, Test, akin to the IQ test but measuring racial bias in commercial, educational and social settings.
Source: The Root | HENRY LOUIS GATES JR. AND JULIE WOLF