This week’s open thread theme has highlighted black firsts. As always on POU, Black History Month doesn’t end in February, it’s all year long.
Today I am highlighting Barrington Irving and the Johnsons
Barrington Irving is the first African American to fly solo around the world and, as of 2010, the youngest person to complete the feat. He made his flight at the age of 23. Irving was born in Kingston, Jamaica on November 11th, 1983. He was the oldest of three brothers. When Irving was six years old, his family relocated to inner-city Miami. Here his parents operated a Christian bookstore where Irving worked when he was not in school.
Around the age of 15, Irving began to develop a pronounced interest in aviation. A customer at his parents’ bookstore was a United Airlines pilot and invited Irving to visit the airport and tour the cockpit of a Boeing 777 airliner. The tour was a turning point in Irving’s life, which quickly became focused on learning to fly. Soon, Irving was working odd jobs at airports in order to earn flying time in light aircraft while practicing at home with a computer flight simulator.
Irving attended Miami Northwestern Senior High School, juggling school with a variety of jobs, the proceeds of which he used to fund his aviation dreams. He graduated from high school in 2002. Irving turned down football scholarships and instead accepted a Florida Bright Future Scholarship, which helped him to pay for community college classes.
As a result of volunteer work teaching youth about aviation opportunities, Irving was awarded the $100,000 Florida Memorial University/U.S. Air Force Flight Awareness Scholarship in 2003. This scholarship paid for Irving to attend Florida Memorial University, where he studied aerospace science. It also covered flight training, through which Irving earned several pilot ratings and added flying hours to his logbook.
In 2005, Irving founded the non-profit Experience Aviation, Inc. The corporation was intended to educate and inspire youth about aviation-related careers. Experience Aviation received federally-funded grant money that enabled it to create education programs, give students aircraft tours and install flight simulators for student use.
Irving is most famous for his solo circumnavigation of the planet. Starting in 2003, Irving began obtaining support for his round-the-world attempt, ultimately having Columbia Aircraft put together a Columbia 400 single-engine airplane, called the “Inspiration”, out of donated parts. With only 600 hours of flying experience, Irving set off from Miami, Florida on March 23, 2007 for his flight. After stopping in various countries in Europe and Asia, Irving returned to Miami on the 27th of June.
He continues to be active in the aviation community and in 2010 began a mission to fly around the world to promote aviation careers.
Anthony Johnson was the first prominent black landholder in the English colonies. Johnson arrived in Virginia in 1621 aboard the James. It is uncertain if Johnson arrived as an indentured servant or as a slave, early records list him as “Antonio a Negro.” Regardless of his status, Johnson was bound labor and was put to work on Edward Bennett’s tobacco plantation, Warresquioake. In March of 1622 local Tidewater Indians attacked Bennett’s plantation killing fifty-two people. Johnson was one of only five on the plantation who survived the attack.
In 1622 “Mary a Negro Woman” arrived aboard the Margrett and John and like Anthony, she ended up on Bennett’s plantation. At some point Anthony and Mary were married; a 1653 Northampton County court document lists Mary as Anthony’s wife. It was a prosperous and enduring union that lasted over forty years and produced at least four children including two sons and two daughters. The couple was respected in their community for their “hard labor and known service,” according to court documents.
At some point between 1625 and 1640 Anthony and Mary gained their freedom and moved to Virginia’s Eastern Shore where they purchased a modest estate. They began raising cattle and hogs and by 1651, Johnson claimed 250 acres of land along Pungoteague Creek. He claimed the land by virtue of five headrights, one of which was in the name of his son, Richard Johnson. It is impossible to know if Anthony imported the other men whose names appear on the headright land claims, but it is possible that he did. It is also possible that he purchased headright certificates from other planters. Either way, 250 acres was a sizeable plantation by the standards of the day. By 1654 Johnson’s two sons, Richard and John, both owned acreage adjoining their father’s land.
In addition to being a landowner, Anthony Johnson was also a slaveholder. Court records reveal that Johnson won a 1655 case against white planter, Robert Parker, to retain ownership of Johnson’s slave, John Casor. Casor, with the help of Robert Parker, tried to claim that he was an indentured servant, not a slave. Although the courts initially found in Parker’s favor, temporarily freeing Casor, they subsequently reversed the decision, returning Casor to the service of his master, Anthony Johnson.
A fire in 1653 destroyed much of the Johnson’s plantation. As a result of the fire, Anthony and Mary petitioned the court for tax relief, which was granted on the grounds that they would have difficulty obtaining a livelihood. Sometime in the 1660s Anthony and Mary Johnson, their dependent children, and their married sons, John and Richard, all moved north into Maryland. In Maryland, Anthony leased a 300-acre farm, Tonies Vineyard, where he lived until his death in 1670. Mary survived her husband, and in her 1672 will she bequeathed a cow to each of her grandsons. Five years later, in 1677, Anthony and Mary’s grandson, John Jr., purchased a 44-acre farm which he named Angola. John Jr. later died without leaving an heir, however, and by 1730, the Johnson family had vanished from the historical records.