Meet the World’s First Black Flight Attendant Who Slapped a White Male Passenger For Fondling Her

In observance of the 40th anniversary of the creation of the Black Flight Attendants of America (BFAA), the organization chose to honor Léopoldine Doualla-Bell Smith for her five-decade career in the aviation industry.

Reported by Angela L. Braden

Smith, who is now retired and living in Denver, is on the record as being the world’s first Black flight attendant. The joyous celebration was held at the Flight Path Museum in Los Angeles, where Smith was honored for her outstanding work in the aviation field.

“When I heard of Mrs. Smith’s generous humanitarian efforts and spirit of volunteerism, I knew she had to have been a woman of substance of whom we all should be proud. Everyone should know of her ‘journey’ to become the first black flight attendant in the world: on every continent and particularly in this country where we were emerged in a historic struggle for equal civil rights under the laws of the [U.S.] Constitution,” said Diane Hunter, chairperson of the celebration.

In an interview, Smith recalled her first time flying as an airline attendant. “I was yelling and screaming and [the other flight attendant] was telling me to calm down. I kept thinking, ‘What if I die?'”she recalled.

That particular flight was the first of hundreds that Smith would fly, excluding the fear she experienced the first time. Her skills and ability to provide outstanding service in the sky quickly took off and began to soar so high that Smith received a number of promotions and accommodations throughout her career.

Smith said that although her career in the aviation industry took off without a hitch, she did hit a little turbulence here and there because of her skin color. Smith said that some of the passengers had never seen a person with “brown skin” before. She added that some of the passengers did not want her to touch them or serve them on the flight. However, Smith did not allow their racism to disrupt her enthusiasm and commitment to her job.

“They were rude; they would tell me not to touch them or not to touch their things,” recalls Doualla-Bell Smith. “I would just walk away and help other people. I did my best not to let it bother me.”

Smith said she also battled seχism in the not-so-friendly skies during her time as a flight attendant. She recalled a time she slapped a White male passenger for fondling her breαst.

“I was worried that I would get fired, but I simply explained the situation to the company and I kept my job,” she explained.

Smith said that one of the greatest aspects of her job was that she was able to travel the world and watch history unfold. She recalled the racial divide in America during the 60s and apartheid in South Africa. She is thankful that the world she knew when she was flying above the clouds has advanced significantly over the years.

Smith is also proud to be a part of history. She realizes that she opened the door for so many flight attendants to maintain successful careers in aviation all over the world.

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