Black History Month – Honoring the World’s First Black Flight Attendant
February 13, 2021
The Association of Flight Attendants, in honor of Black History month, pays special tribute to the World’s First Black Flight Attendant, Léopoldine Douala-Bell Smith.
She was born in Cameroon and was a princess of the royal Douala family. Smith began her career early attending ground hostess training for Air France after graduating from High School in 1956. She then moved on to UAT for Flight training and became a stewardess 1957. Her career continued and she joined the newly founded Air Afrique as the only qualified African in French aviation. At the young age of 17, Léopoldine Doualla-Bell Smith took her first flight as the world’s first black Flight Attendant. She had no idea that first flight – as terrifying as it seemed – would mark the beginning of an illustrious aviation industry career that would ultimately span nearly five decades and earn the honorable distinction of being known as one of the world’s first black Flight Attendants.
Her success was not an easy path she was frequently treated like and outcast by white passengers and was the victim of sexual harassment while working.
She became Air Afrique’s first cabin chief, and after twelve years Smith left Air Afrique to become a manager for a travel agency before coming to the United States to study English at George Town University. There she met her husband Leroy Smith. The two embarked on a life of adventure eventually bringing them to Denver where they founded the Business and Intercultural Services for Educational Travel and Associated Learning (BISETAL) encouraging education on Africa and other non-western cultures.
In March of 2015 Smith was honored at the 40th anniversary celebration of the Black Flight Attendants of America at Los Angeles International Airport’s Flight Path Museum. She, along with countless others have paved the way to equality and equity in aviation. We are grateful for her service to the aviation community.