Azellia White, one of the nation’s first Black female pilots, died on Sept. 14 at 106 years old in Texas.
“She says you just felt free up there, just free,” her great-niece, Emeldia Bailey, told CNN affiliate KTRK. “There weren’t any racial barriers or things like that when you’re in the skies.”
White died of “natural causes,” Bailey said. Her funeral was held on Sept. 21.
Bailey told CNN that her great-aunt would tell the family her flying stories when they were all together.
“We would sit and listen to all her stories, about places where she’d flown,” Bailey said.
White was born in Gonzales, Texas, in 1913. She earned her pilot’s license in 1946 after learning to fly at Tuskegee Field in Alabama, where her husband worked as a mechanic with the Tuskegee Airmen. White and her husband eventually moved back to Texas, and together with a partner, they started the Sky Ranch Flying Service in Houston, according to the Lone Star Flight Museum.
It was an airport for Black people who could not use segregated airports, and it also taught veterans how to fly planes.
In 2018, the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals inducted White into its Hall of Fame as well as the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame.
When ABC 13 asked her in 2018 what made her decide to fly, White said her husband was a big part of it.
“My husband was a pilot and I learned to fly from him,” White said. “There weren’t too many Black people flying. And I said, ‘I can learn to fly,’ and I learned to fly. It was easy.”
White told ABC 13 that former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt was one of her inspirations after she visited the Tuskegee air base in 1941 and convinced her husband, then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to deploy Black pilots in World War II.