First Black Female Air Traffic Controller

Sandra Durbin,
San Diego, CA.

It was hard. I was smart, black and female, 18 years old in 1966. I joined the U S Navy, because they promised me college. I give the govenment 3 years, and they give me four years of college. It was horrible. I was given a Captain’s Mast, at 8:30 PM, on a Saturday, when I checked aboard the base for “A” school, in Glynco GA. I had to go to a blimp hanger, late at night,and the people holding the mast, remained in the dark, and me seated in a single chair, with lights on my face. I felt like I was in a bad movie. I had done nothing wrong, except show up for school. I was accused of cheating in boot camp on the exams. They actually said that black people and especially women were not smart enough to be Air Traffic Controllers. The only reason I was not kicked out of school, before I even started, was because I had interned for Senator Tunney of California, and told my unknown inquistors that I would call him on the following Monday to find out if what they were doing was legal. I was then informed that it was an unoffical Captain’s Mast, and that there would be no record of it ever. I finished AC school, 3rd in my class, and was denied Radar School because I was a female (and I am sure being black played a part), because they said they did not want to waste the school on a woman who “might” get pregnant. I made 3rd Class Air Traffic Controller before I turned 19, which is really rare. But I was determined to prove that I was really intelligent, and not a cheater. Being black and female, in the service, during the late 60’s was a challenge, but I would not trade the experience because it made me a stronger person. And because of my service to my country, I am proud to say that I am the first female in my immediate family to finish both high school and college. Would I do it all over again? Yes. Do I wish it would have been easier? Absolutely.


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