Posted on February 18, 2022 at 10:00 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek

World War II is, in a way, to thank for the remarkable success stories of two pioneering Black Americans whose biographies both appeared on NPR recently.

David Harris, who went on to become the first African American pilot for a commercial airline, grew up next to the Air Force base at which the Tuskegee Airmen were stationed after World War II.

As he told NPR for an interview about his biography — Segregated Skies by Michael Cottman — he and his brother would run around the facility during the years in which the Air Force was still segregated.

So while it didn't really dawn on him then that the all-Black population was unusual, he would certainly come to realize his outsider status once he began applying for commercial jobs as an adult.

Harris and his biographer share plenty more about his quest with NPR's Elizabeth Blair.

Another pioneer, civil rights lawyer Constance Baker Motley, can also connect her career path with World War II.

Her biographer, Tomiko Brown-Nagin, says that Motley might not have been able to attend Columbia Law School were it not for the fact that so many young men were in the armed forces — and not paying for higher education — at that time.

Motley would go on to join the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (where future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall worked), write the original complaint in Brown v. The Board of Education, and serve on Martin Luther King Jr.'s legal team.

You can read or listen to an interview with Brown-Nagin, author of Civil Rights Queen, on NPR's website.

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