The Life and Times of Aviation Pioneer Marlon DeWitt Green
As incredible as it may seem today, until the mid-1960s there were no African-American pilots flying for any major U.S. airline.
It took the indomitable will of one accomplished U.S. Air Force pilot, his sacrifices and those of his wife and family, the efforts of a tireless attorney, and a unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to finally end segregation in the nation’s cockpits. But the victory did not come without immense personal loss and pain.
From an early age, Marlon DeWitt Green dreamed of becoming an airline pilot but, during the 1950s and 60s, found America’s commercial cockpits barred to him because of his race.
Turbulence Before Takeoff is the previously untold story of how Green defied an entrenched, segregated airline industry and overcame defeat in two courts of law to finally realize his dream.
Flint Whitlock’s explosive book is the often inspiring, often heart-breaking story of Green’s long battle, set within the larger context of the fight for civil rights and equality that nearly tore America apart in the 20th century.
Growing up in a poor family in El Dorado, Arkansas, in the 1930s and 40s, Marlon was an outstanding student. After converting to Roman Catholicism, he won a scholarship to the all-black Xavier Prep School in New Orleans and graduated as co-valedictorian. Setting his sights on a future as a priest, he was unexpectedly expelled from the seminary. He then decided to enlist in the Air Force which, in 1947, was still racially segregated.
Never one to shrink from a challenge, he applied for and was accepted to flight school, earned his pilot’s wings, and spent over nine years on active duty. During this time he also married Eleanor Gallagher, a white woman from Boston who campaigned against racism and discrimination as hard as he did, at a time when interracial marriages were considered taboo–and even illegal in many states.
To earn more money to support his growing family (the Greens eventually had six children), he resigned his Air Force commission in 1957 and sought work with the airlines, which he had been led to believe would welcome minorities. Despite his excellent flying abilities and spotless military record, he found no airline willing to defy convention and hire a black pilot.
Fortunately, Green was not alone in his fight. Turbulence Before Takeoff is a controversial book that details the efforts of his Denver attorney who fought the system of institutional racism all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to secure the justice that had been denied Marlon and other pilots of color.
Marlon Green’s determined effort to earn the right to fly airliners was a long, difficult, and costly battle, and was finally achieved when Earl Warren’s United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 1963 that Continental Airlines had discriminated against him and must offer him a job. Once that barrier was broken, the skies were suddenly opened to pilots of color. A special group, the Organization of Black Airline Pilots (OBAP), was formed in the wake of his victory.
But the long struggle had taken its toll and, although Green was hired and flew for Continental for fourteen years, his personal life took a downward spiral that resulted in family tragedy.
Besides telling the story of one man’s courageous battle against discrimination, Turbulence Before Takeoff frames Green’s story against the larger tapestry of the Civil Rights movement that exists to this day.
Capt. Marlon Green’s life is an amazing, untold chapter in American history of how one man overcame incredible odds to achieve his goals, but paid a heavy price–emotionally, personally, and financially–along the way. Yet his perseverance is an inspiration to anyone who has a dream.
Turbulence Before Takeoff is an important story that won’t soon be forgotten.