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Breaking racial barriers, one generation at a time

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Shelby Rapert
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

Master Sgt. Keith Green, 375th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal unit flight chief, comes from a long line of service members. His great-uncle, Marlon Dewitt Green, is most famously known for breaking the airline industry color barrier—and his journey started in the Air Force.

“He faced a lot of discrimination,” Green noted. “He wanted to be on the front line of everything, but he wasn’t really allowed to.”

Five months after his great-uncle commissioned in February 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order banning racial segregation in the Armed Forces. Two years later, Marlon Green was finally able to earn his wings, ultimately serving for nine years, flying bombers and other multi-engine planes and logging 3,071 flight hours.

“After he got out, he applied to be a commercial pilot. He met all of the criteria, but they still wouldn’t hire him,” said Green. “So, he started submitting grievances to the court.”

Marlon Green filed through the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Commission and waited as his grievances eventually made their way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1964, the Supreme Court ruled in his favor.

“He became the first African American to fly a commercial airline,” said Green. “He flew with Continental Airlines for 13 years before he retired.”

Green uses his great-uncle’s stories of perseverance and overcoming barriers to encourage the next generation of leaders in the Air Force.

“I like to talk to the younger guys and explain that they have to take advantage of the opportunities they’re given,” said Green. “And that's what really drew me to stay in the Air Force for 20 years. I never had to feel like I was less than anyone else.”

While things have evolved in the Air Force and across the world since Green’s great-uncle passed away in 2009, his legacy still lives on to this day.

“When people read stories like his, don't get angry—be motivated and inspired,” said Green. “Here it's no longer about skin color, it's about diversity of thought and of character.”