Cornelius Coffey; Trained Tuskegee Airmen

Cornelius Coffey, 91, a self-taught aviator who trained many of the Tuskegee Airmen after a commercial flying school refused to accept him because he was black. Coffey and John Robinson, a fellow black mechanic, built a one-seat airplane powered by a motorcycle engine and taught themselves to fly. They were accepted in a mechanics training program at the Curtiss Wright School of Aeronautics in Chicago, but the school wanted to return their tuition when it learned they were black. Emil Mack, a white man who ran the auto dealership where the two worked as mechanics, threatened to sue and the school relented. Two years later, Coffey and Johnson graduated at the top of their class. Coffey was the first black man to hold both a pilot's and a mechanic's license. He established the Coffey School of Aeronautics and trained more than 1,000 pilots from 1938 to 1945, including many of the Tuskegee Airmen, the black pilots who flew combat missions in World War II. In Chicago on Wednesday.

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