Why Don't We Know The First Black Pilot's Name?

Man stand at door in Ottoman Empire
Shonda Buchanan
September 2, 2020

Ahmet Ali Çelikten saw the way they looked at him. His black skin and his bold, thick features set him apart from the other Turkish WWI pilots-in-training. But he didn’t care. 

He trained harder than them, getting the highest marks – he had to! His ancestors’ past haunted him.

His grandmother was among the last enslaved Africans brought to Turkey during the Ottoman slave trade

Afro-Turks developed their communities and assimilated, but they were still second-class citizens. Descendants of enslaved Africans couldn’t claim Turkish citizenship until 1923! But it gets worse.

The Turkish National Census refused to even recognize the terms “Afro-Turks” or “Africans.” There’s no count of Afro-Turks in the past – OR present! Turkey acts as if slavery didn’t exist.

50,000-60,000 Africans were imported each year into Turkey, suffering silently, subsumed, their existence never acknowledged. Çelikten struggled for everything he had next to lighter-skinned, full-blooded Turks to reclaim and honor that legacy.

Çelikten became the first Black pilot to ever fly, receiving his wings in 1914 and graduating flight school on November 11, 1916.

His people were no longer invisible. Çelikten always shared his descendance from a proud people reclaiming their lost legacy. 

Always challenge discriminatory practices that try to rob you of your identity.

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