Mildred Carter of Tuskegee was Alabama’s first licensed black female pilot. She earned her pilot’s license on February 1, 1941. With 150 hours of flight time logged, Carter flew the skies in a two-plane formation with her husband and fellow Tuskegee Airman, Herbert Carter. In a campus publication, Mildred Carter had been given the title of “Miss Tuskegee Army Flying School” by her colleagues at Tuskegee Air Field.
Known as the Tuskegee Airmen Organization’s “First Family,” the Carters were married for nearly 70 years. Carter’s days of flying included an in-flight rendezvous in which she and her husband Herbert met above a local lake to send “I love you” signals in the air.
Carter, a Benson, Alabama native, graduated with a business degree from Tuskegee Institute at 19 years old. She was denied entry into the Civilian Pilot Training Program the first time because she was too young, but was granted entry the next year and became the first woman graduate. In the meantime, she was also making history as the first civilian to be hired as a clerk at Tuskegee’s Army Air Field. She was taught to fly by historymaker, Charles Alfred “Chief” Anderson, a man known as the Father of Black Aviation. She dressed unlike traditional women of the times; while they wore skirts, Carter, also known as “Mike” by her husband, wore aviator attire, down to the leather boots.
Women were not allowed to join combat during WWII but it was Carter’s dream to have an aviation career. According to her son, Herbert Carter Jr., Mildred’s only regret was not being able to join the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots organization (WASP), which was an all-white female service group during World War II. She was rejected because she was black. It wasn’t until she was 70 years old that she finally received a letter inducting her into the program.
When her husband Herbert went to war, she saw a film at the theater of the Tuskegee Airmen and right on the screen was her husband, one of the original 33 pilots, tending to his aircraft. She cried.
In September 2011, Mildred Carter was honored at the Tuskegee Human and Multicultural Center with a ceremony and roses. She had hoped to stick around for her husband’s 94th birthday a few weeks later and was able to do so prior to her passing one month later. She was 90 years old. Ninety-five year old Herbert Carter died late last year.