Patricia Banks was the first black woman to sue the commercial flight industry for discrimination. While Ruth Carol Taylor was the first attendant hired in 1958 in response to the discrimination suit Banks started, Banks had opened the doors of the courtroom to make it possible.
The New York City native was enrolled at Queens College as a psychology major prior to enrolling at Grace Downs Air Career Training School. She was working at Con Edison as a machine operator to pay for her college expenses. After noticing the ad for the flight attendant school, she took advantage of the opportunity and enrolled in the three-month program for $225. She worked day and night to complete her training.
Standing at 5”6 inches tall, 120 lbs and fluent in two languages, Banks was an ideal candidate for the position of “stewardess” at one of the top airlines in the commercial airline industry.
Although she had graduated at the top of her training class in 1956, Banks had to sue the airline industry before being given a chance to fly. In the 1950’s the airline industry openly discriminated against the way women appeared and their marital status. A recruiter told Banks that she couldn’t get hired because she was black.
With the help of attorney Adam Clayton Powell, Banks opened a lawsuit against TWA, Mohawk Airlines and Capitol Airlines in 1957. The suit was dropped against TWA when they hired Ruth Carol Taylor in 1959. She was finally hired at Capital Airlines in 1960.
Victoria Vantoch tells her story and the plight of early flight attendants in the airline industry in the recent release entitled “The Jet Sex”.
In the video above, Patricia Banks talks about her struggle in suing the airlines.