February 11, 2012


Today marks the start of what is called ‘Half-Term’ in the UK, where most schools will be closed for a week’s vacation.  Many of my friends have flown out of London, this morning, with their families, to ski or beach holidays.

When we board our flights and are greeted by the flight attendants, they are all ages, races, genders and marital statuses. But just over fifty years ago, at least in the United States, they were only young, single, white and female.  That is, until African-American, Ruth Carol Taylor, was hired by regional carrier, Mohawk Airlines, in December 1957. On February 11, 1958, her debut flight, as ‘stewardess’, was on one from Ithaca, New York to New York City.

Ruth was born in December 1931, in Boston, Massachusetts, to a mother, who was a nurse, and a father, who was a barber. When Ruth was young, her family moved to a farm in upstate New York. She attended Elmira College in New York and in 1955, followed in her mother’s footsteps, by graduating from the Bellevue School of Nursing in New York City as a registered nurse.

After working for several years as a nurse, Ruth decided to break the color barrier that existed in the career of airline stewardesses. In a 1997 Jet Magazine interview, she admitted that she had no long-term career aspirations as a flight attendant; but merely wanted to integrate the industry.

1997 Jet Magazine Article

Now called flight attendants, stewardesses at the time were hired primarily based on physical attractiveness and height/weight conformity. Wishing to be the first African-American stewardess, Ruth applied to Trans World Airline (TWA), but was rejected because of her race. So, she subsequently filed a complaint against the company with the New York State Commission on Discrimination. About the same time, the regional carrier Mohawk Airlines expressed interest in hiring minority flight attendants, and Taylor applied for a position. She was selected from 800 black applicants and was hired.

Three months later, Margaret Grant was hired amid pressure by TWA as the first African-American flight attendant for a major airline carrier. Sadly, she her training abruptly ended before she could take her first flight, because she was diagnosed with Sickle Cell Anemia. TWA did eventually hire another African-American stewardess.

Six months after making aviation history, Ruth married Rex Legall and was forced to resign from Mohawk due to restrictions that flight attendants remain single. The couple lived in the British West Indies and then London, but divorced shortly after the birth of their daughter. Ruth moved to Barbados, where she founded the country's first professional nursing journal and became active in Civil Rights. She was significantly involved in covering the famous March on Washington (DC) in August 1963, as a journalist – primarily focusing on consumer affairs and women’s rights.  Ruth’s son was born in Barbados in 1969.

March on Washington 1963

Ruth returned to New York in 1977 to resume work as a nurse and co-founded the Institute for Inter Racial Harmony, which developed a test to measure racist attitudes known as the Racism Quotient.

 In 1985, Ruth wrote The Little Black Book: Black Male Survival in America, a ‘survival guide to help young black men succeed in an institutional racist society’.

In 2008, fifty years after her historic flight that broke the color barrier for flight attendants and paved the way for other women of color to join the industry, Ruth’s accomplishment was formally recognized by the New York State Assembly. Now using the name Carol Taylor, the strong activist lives in Brooklyn, New York and still writes, while enjoying time with her son, daughter and grandson.

Ruth originated from Boston, which is home to the famous, Quincy Market. Try this amazing Clam Roll recipe, from Kelly’s Roast Beef and Seafood, in Quincy Market. Happy cooking and eating!

Clam Roll
Yields 1-2 servings
By Kelly’s Roast Beef and Seafood

  •  8 ounces bleached white flour
  •  8 ounces corn flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  •  6 ounces soft shell clams
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • Vegetable oil, to fry
  • Butter
  • Split top hot dog roll (s)
  • Tartar Sauce (if desired)


Preheat a kitchen grill.
Combine the flour, corn flour, salt, and white pepper. Dip clams in evaporated milk then dredge in the seasoned flour mixture. Fill a deep pot halfway full with oil and heat to 350 degrees F.

Fry the clams in the vegetable oil for approximately 1 to 2 minutes (depending on size), until golden brown. Lightly butter a split-top hot dog roll and grill on both sides. Place clams on roll, top with tartar sauce, if desired, and enjoy!

Sources: Wikipedia, BlackAmericaWeb.com, BlackPast.org, Carol Taylor Word, JET Magazine, Food Network, Google, Bing

1 comment:

  1. very interesting piece of history...keep me informed