Legacy Stories

Janet Harmon Bragg

Janet Harmon Bragg spent the major part of her life encouraging blacks to become active in aviation. She was an active pilot for over 35 years, earned a Commercial Pilot License and logged over 2,000 flying hours. In 1984, Bragg was honored by the University of Arizona Black Alumni Association as the first black woman to receive a commercial pilot’s license in the USA. She also was presented the Certificate of Appreciation by the FAA and was awarded the Bishop Wright Air Industry Award for her contributions to aviation by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Janet Bragg is part of the Women in Flight Exhibit in Hangar 1.

Janet Harmon Bragg portrait
American amateur aviator

Janet Harmon Bragg was an American amateur aviator. From her humble beginnings, she became the first African American woman to earn a private pilot’s license in the United States in 1934 and, in 1942, the first African-American woman to hold a commercial pilot license. (Bessie Coleman did earn a pilot’s license but went to France to do so.)

An aviation pioneer, Janet Harmon Bragg, broke barriers and soared to heights in the early 20th century. Her legacy, marked by courage and determination, continues to inspire generations. She moved to Tucson, Arizona, from Chicago due to her husband’s pulmonary illness and brought in tow her nephew, Clarence Harper, whom she had been raising, and was also there for his son, Clarence Harper, Jr., who both still reside in Tucson.

Ms. Harmon Bragg had an extraordinary life story, one of resilience, determination, and groundbreaking achievements. Born in Griffin, Georgia, on March 24, 1907, she faced numerous obstacles due to her gender and race but ultimately left an indelible mark on aviation history.

  • Growing up in the segregated South, Bragg attended segregated schools in Griffin and Fort Valley before furthering her education at Fort Valley High and Industrial School.
  • Later, she pursued nursing studies at Spelman Seminary. Despite the racial barriers she encountered, Bragg practiced nursing at Griffin Hospital before eventually relocating to Illinois during the Great Depression.
  • In Chicago, Bragg found employment as a registered nurse and later as a healthcare inspector for an insurance company. It was during this time that she seized the opportunity to pursue her childhood dream of flying airplanes. Despite facing discrimination, she enrolled in evening classes at the Aeronautical University, formerly the Curtiss-Wright Flying Service, in 1933.
  • Working tirelessly during the day, she earned her private pilot’s license and saved enough to purchase her own aircraft, contributing with students to the construction of an airstrip in Robbins, Illinois, called the Challenger Aero Club, and she was the co-founder of the first African American airport.
  • During World War II, Bragg sought to contribute her skills to the war effort by attempting to join the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) and attending Tuskegee Institute an African American pilots training program. Despite her qualifications, she faced discrimination based on both race and gender. Nevertheless, Bragg persisted, ultimately earning her commercial pilot’s license in 1943 in Illinois, becoming the first African American woman to do so.
  • Throughout her career, Bragg dedicated herself to promoting aviation education and opportunities for African Americans. She actively participated in Civilian Pilot Training programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and advocated for increased inclusion of African Americans in the US Army and Air Corps.

A Legacy Story About Janet Harmon Bragg

Narrated by her nephews, The Harper Family

Video by African American Museum of Southern Arizona

Clarence Harper – Clip

Ms. Bragg’s contributions to aviation were recognized posthumously when she was inducted into the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame in 2000. Prior to this, she had been honored with the Bishop Wright Aviation Industry Award in 1985 and received certificates of appreciation from the US Department of Transportation and recognition from Women in Aviation International and the aerospace industry. She was a 2022 inductee to the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame.

Janet Harmon Bragg’s legacy as a trailblazer and inspiration to future generations of African American pilots is cemented not only in her achievements but also in her unwavering determination to defy the odds and pursue her dreams.

Clarence Harper – Full Interview

Copyright © 2023, African American Museum of Southern Arizona. All Rights Reserved. No image, sound or text from this site can be used without the expressed written permission of the museum’s Board of Directors.

Website by AAMSAZ

Logo Design by Felicia Penza -feliciapenza@gmail.com

Please note: No photos and no videos.
Museum Location
  • Museum is located on the Campus of the University of Arizona
    Student Union Room 244

    (1303 E University Blvd, Tucson, AZ 85719)
    Park in the 2nd Street Garage

Business Office

Copyright © , African American Museum of Southern Arizona. All Rights Reserved. No image, sound or text from this site can be used without the expressed written permission of the museum’s Board of Directors.