By Angela L. Braden
Léopoldine Doualla-Bell Smith is recorded as being the first person of African descent to work professionally as a flight attendant.
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?'”
That particular flight was the first of hundreds that Smith would fly, but without the fear she experienced the first time. Her skills and abilities 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 said 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 crash 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 sexism 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 breast.
“I was worried that I would get fired, but I simply explained the situation to the company and I kept my job,”
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 60’s and apartheid in South Africa. She is quite thankful that the world she knew when she was flying above it has advanced significantly over the years.