Monday, December 13, 2021

Segregated Skies: David Harris's Trailblazing Journey to Rise Above Racial Barriers

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Cottman, Michael H. Segregated Skies: David Harris's Trailblazing Journey to Rise Above Racial Barriers 
December 21st 2021 by National Geographic Kids
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Born in 1934 in Columbus, Ohio, David Harris had a good start in life despite the racism of the times, and graduated from Ohio State University. His was in the ROTC program, and began basic training in the air force in 1958. He was well aware that reporting to duty in the South could be problematic, having experienced some horrible discrimation in public settings while traveling with his ROTC peers. Being lighter complected, with green eyes, Harris was often mistaken for white. His first roommate assumed that he was, and made many negative comments about Black people. It eventaully became known that Harris was Black, and was determined to work hard and succeed despite obstacles put in his way. He married and started a family, but stayed with the military, movign around quite a bit. He wanted to transition to civilian life, but loved to fly. At the time, there were no Black pilots flying for any of the commercial airlines. He applied for many jobs, always stating very clearly that he was Black, and had little success until he got an interview with American Airlines. This was shortly after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, and Harris was hired. He moved his family to Boston, and embarked on a career as a commercial pilot. Things were not always easy, and it took until 1984 for him to assemble an entire cockpit crew that was Black, and Harris thrived. Now retired, he lives in South Carolina.
Strengths: I'm always intrigued by ordinary people who quietly and steadfastly work toward what they want no matter what obstacles confront them, and it's also good for my students to understand that there have been successful Black professionals for quite a long time. Harris experiences in dealing with racial issues were probably very similar to the ones that many Black people in Ohio had, but are not the kind of experiences that get much press. My father was also born in Ohio in 1934, so some of Harris' experiences seemed very familiar, and this short biography was an interesting way to contrast the Black midcentury experience with the white ones I know about. I'd love to see more biographies like this one, starting with home economists Flemmie Pansy Kittrell and Margaret Murray Washington.
Weaknesses: It would have been nice to see some photographs supporting some of the general history, although it was good to see a few personal photos of Harris at the end of the book.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, especially since there is a local connection. While Harris' groundbreaking aviation career will draw student readers in, I thought this was also interesting as a glimpse at one midcentury, middle class Black experience. 

Here is a nice, short interview with Mr. Harris
We have one more week until winter break, and it's been a bit wearying this year. I was raised to believe that someone else always had it worse than me, so I shouldn't complain. Let's just say that break will not be unwelcome. 

On the bright side, I challenged one of my big readers to write a sonnet over the weekend instead of playing video games the whole time (which was his stated plan). He shared one with me this morning that was actually pretty good. I am super picky about poetry, so this is saying a lot. Part of the challenge was that I write a sonnet as well. Since I spend very class change standing in the hall trying to kindly encourage students to walk rather than run, slam each other into walls and pull each other hoodies, this is what emerged. 

Running in the Halls

10 December 2021

The rapid, racing, rushing steeplechase

that scamperingly scurries straight across

our ever scrambling days at breakneck pace

propels us more precociously towards loss.

Believing that the race is to the swift,

believing that the fight is to the strong, 

denies that being present is a gift

and argues that our weaknesses are wrong.

Our time is short. Why rush? Instead, just stop.

Breath in. Be kind. Allow someone to rise.

Be mindful that when you have reached the top

the only forward road runs down. The wise

design a pace that makes the journey last.

We can’t go back because we’ve gone too fast.

Ms. Yingling


  1. I enjoyed the review of this new bio, Karen, & love the sonnet & its message. I recently marked a quote for a grandson, who's twenty! "Time, when you’re twenty, is a thing you’ll never run out of.” John Dunning Your words reminded me of it! Happy Holidays to you & yours!

  2. This sounds like a fascinating book! I'm not really familiar with David Harris, but it's amazing that he overcame so many barriers to have such a successful and fascinating career. And how neat that it happened close to where y'all are!

    Also, I hope you really enjoy your break—you're so close! I think this year has definitely been exhausting for students, teachers, professors, librarians, administrators—basically every human being in any education setting. Also, I love that you challenged both another student and yourself to write a sonnet (very fair of you!), and your sonnet is so good!! I love the message, and I'm impressed that you were able to stick to the rhythm and rhyme—whenever I write poems, I stick to free verse because I hate dealing with all of that. Thanks so much for the great post, Karen!

  3. I do enjoy authors finding ordinary people who quietly do extraordinary things and make a difference. I was surprised that it took until 1984 for him to assemble an all black crew. How naive we are at times. This also interests me because of the Ohio link - I grew up in Columbus and attended OSU.
    Enjoyed your poem about kids running in the hallways. They are so oblivious to time and how quickly it passes. Loved your last three lines. Happy Holidays! And thanks for the mention on twitter!

  4. Good for you in writing a sonnet! Glad he took the challenge :)

  5. What an interesting book this must be. Thanks for telling me about it. The poem is quite good! Fun topic too. Thanks for the post.

  6. I'm so glad to learn of Segregated Skies, and how nice that you have that local and personal connection. Thanks for sharing. I also enjoyed your sonnet, Karen! It makes me want to carve out some time to write poetry. Why is it that life is such a rush?