Wednesday evening protests inspired by those who marched for answers in the death of Freddie Gray spread from Baltimore to other cities. Some highlights:
-In New York City, protesters starting at Union Square in Manhattan marched throughout the city, at one point shutting down the West Side highway and Holland Tunnel., according to CBS-2. At least one dozen arrests were made, according to USA Today, and Michael Skolnik of Interactive One, who was out with the marchers, and sent out a photo of Instagram of one of them. His caption: “Lots of arrests in NYC tonight. This could be a very long night…”
-In Washington, DC, NBC-4 reported that “a large group of protesters,” rallied peacefully after gathering at Gallery Place and DuPont Circle.
Meanwhile, back in Baltimore, the epicenter of protests in reaction to the death of Freddie Gray after suffering a severed spine in police custody, USA Today reported that thousands gathered outside of City Hall. Eighteen people had been arrested in Baltimore by 8 p.m., including two juveniles, the paper reported. Just after a citywide 10 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew took effect, conditions were reportedly calm.
Léopoldine Doualla-Bell Smith vividly remembers her first flight at the tender age of 17.
“I was yelling and screaming and [the other flight attendant] was telling me to calm down,” she recalls, laughing at the memory of the first time she’d experienced soaring amid the clouds in an airplane. “I kept thinking, ‘what if I die?'”
Doualla-Bell Smith had no idea that first flight – as terrifying as it seemed – would mark the beginning of an illustrious aviation industry career that would ultimately span nearly five decades and earn the honorable distinction of being known as one of the world’s first black flight attendants.
In celebration of their 40th anniversary, the Black Flight Attendants of America recently honored Doualla-Bell Smith, 76, now retired in Denver, for her years of service at the Flight Path Museum at the Los Angeles International Airport.
“When I heard of Mrs. Smith’s generous humanitarian efforts and spirit of volunteerism, I knew she had to have been a woman of substance of whom we all should be proud,” explains event chairperson Diane Hunter. “Everyone should know of her ‘journey’ to become the first black flight attendant in the world: on every continent and particularly in this country where we were emerged in a historic struggle for equal civil rights under the laws of the [U.S.] Constitution.”
History buffs may know that Ruth Carol Taylor is on record as the first African-American flight attendant in the United States. Her initial flight was reportedly February 11, 1958 on a Mohawk Airlines flight from Ithaca to New York. Unfortunately her career abruptly ended six months later due to a common practice among airlines of the day of releasing flight attendants who got married or became pregnant.
As a stewardess with Union Aéromaritime de Transport (UAT) Doualla-Bell Smith, who was born in the West African nation of Cameroon, actually took flight for the first time the year before Taylor in 1957.
“When I was young there were only white men and women working on the plane,” she remembers. “I was one of the first blacks to be hired and it was a big deal; everybody in my town was talking about it. It was even in the newspaper.”
Her aviation career took off early on when Doualla-Bell Smith, a princess of the royal Douala family of Cameroon, accepted an after-school job as a ground hostess with UAT (which later merged into the Union de Transports Aériens or UTA), the airline that, along with Air France served, France’s African routes. She stayed on for two years and after graduating from high school in 1956 at the age of 17, Doualla-Bell Smith was recruited and sent to Paris for flight training by Air France.
She joined UAT a year later as an “hôtesse de l’air,” what flight attendants were called then. By 1960, she was recruited by Air Afrique, a Pan-African airline mainly owned by many West African countries created to serve 11 newly independent French-speaking nations.
In fact, her stellar credentials as an African with French aviation experience helped her stand out so much she became the airline’s first official hire (in fact, her employee identification card literally read “no. 001”). It didn’t take long for her to get promoted to Air Afrique’s first cabin chief position.
Rhonda A. Lee (pictured), the woman who was fired from her meteorologist job in Shreveport, La. after defending her natural hair on the station’s Facebook page, has just accepted a job with a national weather channel in Colorado.
Lee announced on her Twitter and Facebook pages that she has accepted a meteorology position with WeatherNation in Denver. “By all accounts, it is my dream job and I am thrilled to be a part of the WeatherNation family,” she said Thursday night on Facebook. Lee told NewsOne that she accepted the position a week ago but wanted to fine tune some particulars before making an announcement.
The offer came soon after the veteran weather woman had lost hope of ever working in television again.
“A month ago, I told my husband that I’m pretty sure I would never work in weather again,” she said. “I had completely lost faith, but in a matter of a week or so, all of a sudden, three people showed interest in me. It was an awakening is what it was. I really had given up.”
Lee had several offers in other markets, including a chief meteorologist position, but went with WeatherNation because it’s a national network that reaches millions of homes. Lee doesn’t know when she will be on-air, but says she will be on Channel 361 on DIRECTV. She, her husband, and their 10-month-old son will be moving to Denver in a few weeks.
More than a year and a half has past since Lee was fired from KTBS 3 News, an ABC affiliate in Shreveport, after she responded to users on Facebook who complained about her natural hairstyle. The station said Lee was fired for violating its social media policy. She has filed an EEOC complaint against the station and is in mediation to resolve her dismissal. Lee said she has no regrets about defending her natural hair and says her dispute with the Shreveport station hasn’t been an issue with her new employer.
Back in the early 1940s, it was almost unfathomable for the collective imagination to conceive of African-American and female pilots, particularly lending their talents to the battle of World War II. And yet, at roughly the same time, programs were developed by the U.S. military that made that seeming improbability a reality.
Elder James H. Brown, one of the prestigious Tuskegee Airmen (the corps of African-American pilots who participated in World War II), and Jane Tedeschi, a former member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) corps, are products of such programs. They challenged the popular stereotypes of the times that promoted the belief that neither black men nor women were fit to be pilots.
While their paths never crossed during the war, Tedeschi had always wanted to meet one of the brave Tuskegee Airmen, some of whom were stationed near the base where she served, and whose exploits she admired.
Tedeschi just recently got to do just that, bonding with Brown for the first time over their unique places in American history. On May 17, through a partnership between the Brookdale senior living community where Tedeschi resides, and Wish of a Lifetime, an organization that fosters appreciation for seniors by fulfilling life-enriching requests, Jane got her decades-old wish. Sixty-eight years after the end of World War II, Jane, now 93, and Elder, 87, finally had the chance to connect. The result? Mutual appreciation and thanks.