David E. Harris was born in Columbus, Ohio on December 22, 1934. Prior to attending Ohio State University, he received a private education. He was interested in flying planes and took advantage of the option to apply to the Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps while still in college. He did, however, face a string of rejections due to the hue of his skin.
According to Simple Flying, Harris’s persistence eventually resulted to his admittance to the Corps, where he ultimately became a cadet colonel. He joined the United States Air Force after earning his bachelor’s degree in education. He eventually advanced to the rank of second lieutenant in the Air Force.
His exceptional performance and dedication to duty prompted his superiors to transfer him to Big Spring, Texas to learn how to fly Boeing B-47 Strato planes after he won a competition in basic flight school in Orlando, Florida. Harris later flew to England to train in flying the B-47s and B-52s associated with nuclear weapons after extensive service at numerous air stations in the United States.
When he left the Air Force in 1964, he received another harsh awakening in his career. Because of his skin color, no airline will hire him. After being invited for a job interview, he met with a pilot chief at American Airlines. He was anxious that they would reject him once more, but the pilot chief assured him that race did not matter at American Airlines. The ability to fly the plane was the most crucial characteristic they searched for.
Harris became the first African American to fly for a major commercial airline in the United States as a result of this. Harris used his time with American Airlines to break down barriers by mentoring other African Americans interested in working in aviation. Guion Bluford, Jr., the first African American in space, was one of those he trained.
Harris recently told National Public Radio that his interest in flying planes was sparked when he and his brother visited the Lockbourne Air Force Base. The Tuskegee Airmen were stationed at Lockbourne Air Force Base following their service in WWII.