Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Lonnie Carmen: Columbus First Black Aviator

Lonnie Carmen and his wife, Mamie, came to 328 South Grant Avenue in Columbus from Adell, Georgia, where he was born in 1901. He was ten years older than his thirteen year old bride and perhaps that's why they ran away to get married.

After his father died, all of Lonnie’s thirteen siblings began wandering away from Georgia and the uncertainty of a hard agricultural life, just two generations from slavery in the Deep South.

Lonnie was a natural mechanic and inventor, for whom there was no problem that couldn’t be solved if he studied long enough on it. The year his first son, Owen was born, in 1926, using a salvaged motorcycle engine and without any written plans, Lonnie built himself an airplane in his backyard.

The homebuilt machine flew, but the pilot had to hide it in a barn in the Black community of Urbancrest for fear that some of the jealous pilots flying out of Norton Field would damage it.

Lonnie’s daughter, Anna, the second of six children, says that he was self-employed, always had a truck or two and would haul things for people. He sometimes would haul old cars home and would have them running within hours.

Saturday was always airplane day and Lonnie would pile the family into the Franklin sedan and drive to the flying field to give the whole family airplane rides. People in the southend neighborhood of Main Street and Grant Avenue would wait for Lonnie and his passengers to fly the new Piper Cub that he owned in the 1930s over the neighborhood at five hundred feet.

On Sunday afternoons, he would take his drive in the Franklin or a hand-me-down Durant and the destination would always be Port Columbus to watch the air machines coming and going. Lonnie Carmen was an inventor, mechanic, family man and Columbus’ first Black aviator.

Arnett Howard

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