From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Powell, William Jennifer, Sr.

(born: July 27, 1897  -  died: July 12, 1942

William J. Powell, Sr. was born William Jennifer in Henderson, KY; he had a sister named Edna Jennifer. After their father died, their mother moved to Chicago and married Mr. Powell, who adopted the children.

After high school, William Powell enrolled at the University of Illinois at Champaign [now University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign] but left in 1917 to join the U.S. Army. At the end of World War I, he returned to college and earned his electrical engineering degree.

In 1928 he left Chicago to enroll in the Warren School of Aeronautics in Los Angeles. Powell learned to fly and became inspired to make it his lifetime mission to encourage African Americans to become pilots. He saw the field as a way for African Americans to get ahead economically by becoming part of the air age and to help break down the racial barriers in public transportation.

Powell was the successful owner of Craftsmen of Black Wings, Inc., an aviation company that offered flying lessons. He also made the documentary film, Unemployment, the Negro, and Aviation (1935); published the trade journal Craftsmen Aero-News (1937-1938); and organized all-black air shows with pilots such as Betsy Coleman and Hubert Fauntleroy Julian. Powell wrote his autobiography Black Wings, published in 1934.

William Powell was the husband of Lucylle Powell and the father of William Jr. and Bernadyne Powell. William Powell, Sr. was a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.

For more see Black Aviator: the story of William J. Powell, a new edition of William J. Powell's 1934 Black Wings; "Black Wings: The Life of African American Aviation Pioneer William Powell" at the National Air and Space Museum website; John H. Lienhard, 'No. 987: BLACK AVIATOR" at the University of Houston's Engines or Our Ingenuity website; and "William Jennifer Powell" in Encyclopedia of African American Business History, by J. E. K. Walker.

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“Powell, William Jennifer, Sr.,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed May 26, 2024,

Last modified: 2023-07-03 16:43:13