Black History: Lake Wales man first black airline executive

- Plinton called Lake Wales home and left behind a legacy in aviation and civil rights.

"He went through a lot of struggles to overcome prejudices and he did," Roman explained.

Plinton was first turned away by U.S. Airlines so he went overseas to work at foreign airlines. Then he came home when TWA discovered his talent.

He climbed the ranks of TWA and, in 1957, became the first black corporate executive at a major airline. In 1971, he was hired as vice president of Eastern Airlines.

Plinton was the highest ranking black airline executive in the nation.

A trailblazer who opened doors for African Americans in the field of aviation broke the color barrier fro airline executives.

James Plinton, Jr. was always fascinated with aviation. He was one of the first black flight instructors at the famous Tuskegee Army Air Field during World War II.

Plinton's passing on July 4, Independence Day, is symbolic of a life spent fighting for freedom.

"He was an amazing man that accomplished many things in his life," Plinton's daughter, Kati Plinton Roman said.

"There was many times people shut the door in my father's face, but that didn't stop him," Roman said. "He knew he had the capability. He was extremely intelligent."

Plinton's love for aviation began at the University of Newark, where he enrolled in a civilian pilot training program. He passed with honors and was recruited to go to the Tuskegee Army Air Field.

"And became an instructor for the famed 99th," Roman added said.

The 99th Squadron of black pilots was comprised of World War II heroes who flew combat missions in Europe. Following the war, Plinton faced his ultimate challenge - finding equal footing in a segregated society.

"There were times in his life when he wanted to buy a house and they wouldn't sell it to him because he was black," Roman said. "My father was dear friends with Martin Luther King, Jr. and it was a struggle. Everything was a struggle."

Plinton was also an entrepreneur. He opened the Haitian American Dry Clearness in Haiti in 1948. He was also elected President of the National YMCA.

Plinton died in 1996. He was 81.

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