In 1958, Ruth Carol Taylor became the first African American flight attendant in the United States when she began working for Mohawk Airlines. Not only did she break barriers in the air, she was also an activist for equality and women’s rights.
Taylor worked as a nurse for years prior to applying for a position as a flight attendant. She made the choice to apply because she wanted to break the color barrier in the airline industry. Taylor first applied to TWA, but was rejected for not meeting the standards, which at the time were based on physical attractiveness. She didn’t give up, instead she filed a complaint with the New York State Commission on Discrimination. Around the same time period, Mohawk Airlines announced that they were interested in hiring minority flight attendants, Taylor applied and was hired out of a pool of 800 applicants.
In 1977, Taylor returned to nursing. She co-founded the Institute for Inter Racial Harmony and helped develop a test known as the Racism Quotient which is used to measure racist attitudes. In 1985 Taylor wrote The Little Black Book: Black Male Survival in America, a guide to help black men succeed in a racist society.
In 2008, New York State Assembly recognized Taylor’s accomplishments, fifty years after her historic flight that broke the color barrier for flight attendants in the air.