Marlon D. Green has been considered the “Jackie Robinson of Aviation,” although he didn’t set out to make that distinction. The former Air Force pilot was determined to fly for a commercial airline but was denied because he was Black. Undaunted, he decided to sue for his right to fly. In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with Green and dismantled the racist hiring practices within the airline industry, leading the way for David Harris to become the first Black pilot for a major American airline.
Green was finally invited for a flight test by Continental Airlines after he left the race field blank. He still wasn’t hired, despite having more experience than his white counterparts. Angered by Continental’s refusal to let him join its pilots corp, Green filed a complaint with the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Commission. Continental was based in the state, which had just passed a law barring racial discrimination during the hiring process.
The Commission used the race basis to bring the charge of discrimination, but the Green v. Continental Airlines case was couched within the unconstitutional barring of interstate commerce. Since Continental traveled state to state, the Constitution supported Green’s case and thus the airline would be sued on two counts, discrimination and the blocking of interstate travel for employment.
Green’s case ultimately made its way to the Supreme Court, which sided with him in April 1963. The following year, Harris would become the first Black pilot to fly for a major airline when he was hired by American Airlines. In 1965, after all the fuss, Continental hired Green and he flew for the airline until 1979.
Green, who died in July 2009, was survived by his ex-wife Eleanor Green, three sons, three daughters and two grandchildren, in addition to two brothers. In 2010, he was honored by Continental after they named a Boeing 737 in their fleet after the captain.