Milton Crenchaw and the PSC Aviation Program
In the 1940’s, Philanderians took to the skies, thanks largely in part to one of Little Rocks native sons, the late Milton Crenchaw. After he received his associates degree from Dunbar Jr. College in 1939 (Little Rock, AR), Crenchaw went on to study at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in mechanical engineering (Hayes, 1993). During World War II, Milton Crenchaw served as a flight instructor in the 99th Fighter Squadron, an African American unit that flew with the Allied Forces over Europe to help defeat the tyranny of Adolf Hitler (Hayes, 1993).
After the war, Crenchaw brought his talents back to the Natural State and approached Philander Smith College President, M. L. Harris, with the idea of starting a flight program. By 1947, aeronautics courses were being offered by the College and Milton Crenchaw was the primary flight instructor (PSC Catalog, 1947). Classes were held in a building erected at the Little Rock Municipal Airport (now Clinton National Airport) and students that passed the required the coursework were eligible to receive a “Civilian’s Pilots License” (Panther Yearbook, 1947).
The “Vocational Aviation” courses were open to veterans and civilians alike (Panther Yearbook, 1947). For a little over $300.00, a student could receive first hand training from a licensed pilot and practice their flying skills in planes like the Taylorcraft BC-65, the Stearman PT-17 or a Cesna UC-78 (PSC Catalog, 1950-1951).
Milton Crenchaw taught a number of notable individuals how to fly through the PSC Aviation program. One student in particular would go on to make history not in the air, but on the ground through grassroots activism in the Civil Rights Movement. Not long after Daisy and L. C. Bates began publishing the Arkansas State Press, a weekly paper that featured news about the African American community, Daisy tried her hand at aviation. In her 1986 memoir, The Long Shadow of Little Rock, Bates recalls:
I had always liked flying. So when Milton Crenchaw, the son of the Reverend J. C. Crenchaw, President of the local NAACP branch, came home from the war and operated a flight school in connection with Philander Smith College, I was among the first to enroll. It turned out that I was the only woman in the class. I had just about acquired enough time in the air to qualify for my license when my insurance agent learned that I was taking flying lessons. He thereupon revised my insurance rates upward. The new premiums were so astronomical that they put an end to my flight career.
Bates, D. (1986, 2007). The Long Shadow of Little Rock : A Memoir. Fayetteville, Ark: University of Arkansas Press. Retrieved from https://philander.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=840757&site=eds-live
Hayes, J. D. (1993). Introduction of Milton Crenchaw: 314th Airlift Wing Flying Safety meeting, Little Rock Air Force Base. Milton Crenchaw Collection. D. W. Reynolds Library Archives and Special Collections, Philander Smith College, Little Rock: AR.
Philander Smith College. (1950). Catalog of Philander Smith College including George R. Smith College Interests, Little Rock, Arkansas, 1950-51. D. W. Reynolds Library Archives and Special Collections, Philander Smith College, Little Rock: AR.
Philander Smith College. (1947). Panther Yearbook. PSC Yearbook Collection. D. W. Reynolds Library Archives and Special Collections, Philander Smith College, Little Rock: AR.
Images from the Earl Vernon Stallcup Collection, D. W. Reynolds Library Archives and Special Collections, Philander Smith College, Little Rock: AR.