William J. Powell Collection, 1917-1942
Digitized Content

Summary
Collection ID:
NASM.1999.0049
Creators:
Powell, William J., 1899-1942
Dates:
1917 - 1942
Languages:
English
Physical Description:
0.31 cubic feet
1 shared legal-size box 1 flat box 1 oversize folder
Repository:
National Air and Space Museum Archives
The William J. Powell Collection consists of materials concerning the career and personal life of African-American entrepreneur and pilot William J. Powell, including his service in the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in World War I, his automobile business in Chicago, and his advocacy for African-American aviation as the founder of Craftsmen of Black Wings, Inc., author of
Black Wings
, and a primary organizer of the Bessie Coleman Aero Club and the "Five Blackbirds" demonstration team. Materials include identification and membership cards, flight logs and officer records, newspaper clippings, advertisements, and photographs.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
This collection contains materials concerning the career and personal life of African-American entrepreneur and pilot William J. Powell, including his service in the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in World War I, his automobile business in Chicago, and his advocacy for African-American aviation as the founder of Craftsmen of Black Wings, Inc., author of
Black Wings
, and a primary organizer of the Bessie Coleman Aero Club and the "Five Blackbirds" demonstration team.
The following types of materials are included: AEF identification card and records book, advertisements for his automobile business, his 1938-1939 flight logs, legal documents, marriage license, diploma, membership cards, burial and funeral records, and newspaper clippings. The collection also includes photographs from his time with the AEF and Bessie Coleman Aero Club, as well as portraits of Powell and his family. Materials found in the collection seem to indicate that some photographs have come from individuals other than Powell.

Arrangement
Arrangement
The collection is arranged into three categories: Aviation Career (American Expeditionary Forces and African-Americans in Aviation), Personal Materials (marriage and death records, automobile business, and memberships), and Photographs (AEF, aviation, portraits and family, and albums). Within these categories, materials are arranged chronologically.

Biographical Note
Biographical Note
William J. Powell (1899-1942) was a prominent African-American entrepreneur and pilot who urged African-Americans to become part of the future aviation industry.
Powell was born in Henderson, Kentucky, on July 29, 1899. He moved to Chicago at the age of eight. He entered the University of Illinois in 1916. He went to Officers' Training Camp in Fort Des Moines, Iowa, in June 1917, and was commissioned as a First Lieutenant in the American Expeditionary Forces at the completion of training camp. He served with the 317th Engineers and 365th Infantry during World War I. After his honorable discharge in 1919, he returned to the University of Illinois, graduating with honors and a degree of Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering in 1922.
He worked as an electrical engineer and electric welding instructor for Rock Island Railroad for two years. In 1924, he opened his first filling station and in two years' time, he had built a successful automobile business in South Chicago before moving to Los Angeles in 1928.
During the late 1920s and 1930s, Powell worked tirelessly to promote airmindedness in the black community. Under his umbrella organization, Craftsmen of Black Wings, Inc., Powell wrote a thinly disguised autobiography,
Black Wings
, in 1934; wrote and directed a 1935 documentary film,
Unemployment, the Negro and Aviation
; and published a trade journal entitled
Craftsmen Aero News
(1937-1938). Powell was also instrumental in organizing the Bessie Coleman Aero Club and the "Five Blackbirds" demonstration team. William J. Powell died in July 1942.

Administration
Processing Note
Researchers may wish to consult other collections in the NASM Archives: William J. Powell (Craftsmen of Black Wings, Inc.) Photograph Collection (Accession 1996-0008).
Arranged, described, and encoded by Elizabeth C. Borja, 2017.
Author
Elizabeth C. Borja
Acquisition Note
Donated by William H. Powell, III, gift, in 1999. Materials found in the collection seem to indicate that some photographs have come from individuals other than Powell.

Digital Content
More …
Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Use
Permissions Requests
Conditions Governing Access
No restrictions on access
Preferred Citation
William J. Powell Collection, Accession 1999-0049, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

Keywords
Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
African Americans in aeronautics Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Photographs Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Aeronautics -- Societies, etc. Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Clippings Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Logs (records) Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Aeronautics Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Craftsmen Aero News (journal) Title Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
United States. Army. American Expeditionary Forces Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Powell, William J., 1899-1942 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
"Five Blackbirds" Demonstration Team Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Bessie Coleman Aero Club Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Craftsmen of Black Wings, Inc Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
National Air and Space Museum Archives
14390 Air & Space Museum Parkway
Chantilly, VA 20151
NASMRefDesk@si.edu