For a running list of all our 2021 Black History Month profiles, click here.
Born in Oklahoma in 1900, James Herman Banning was long obsessed with flight. In 1926, he finally found a white aviator willing to teach him to fly a plane, and he became one of the first licensed Black pilots in America. In the late 1920s, Banning moved to Los Angeles at the behest of African American aviation pioneer William Powell, who invited him to become chief pilot at his new school.
In 1932, Banning and aviator Thomas Allen embarked on a cross-country flight in a beat-up old biplane fixed up with used parts. They left L.A.’s Dycer Airport on September 19 and gained national notoriety on their journey across America. Jokingly nicknaming themselves “the flying hoboes,” Banning and Allen funded their journey as they went, doing everything from accepting donations from Black churches to dropping adverts for the FDR campaign over Pittsburg on behalf of the Democratic Party.
On October 9, 1932, they landed in NYC, the first Black men to successfully fly across America. Sadly, only four months after this historic feat, on February 3, 1933, Banning was killed in a plane crash during an air show in San Diego. He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights.
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