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American Master: United Airlines Pilot Nia Wordlaw, A Black Woman From Chicago

Chicago area native Nia Wordlaw is one of 15 women featured in American Masters: The Women's List premiering nationwide Friday night at 9 p.m. on PBS & locally on WTTW. The film is available same day on DVD via Perfect Day Films Inc. at shoppbs.org and will be available to stream on the American Masters website September 26.

Wordlaw is one of approximately 25 black female pilots flying for a major airline in the U.S. today.

She attended Lindop Elementary School (Broadview, IL), Oak Park and River Forest High School (Oak Park, IL), Lewis University (Romeoville, IL) and is an alumnus of Southern Illinois University, where she did her flight training. She moved to Houston in 2007 and is currently employed by United Airlines.

The trailer:



wordlaw.jpgBy Greenfield-Sanders Studio


"At age 10 she knew she wanted to fly after attending space camp, even though she had never seen a Black female pilot. She heard that a funeral was being held in the area for Janet Harmon Bragg, a pilot who circumvented racist attitudes about Black pilots and in the 1940s helped to build an airfield in the then-all-Black town of Robbins, Ill."


"When she met a black female pilot at the service, she hugged her and cried. Now, as a pilot who's been flying commercially for 15 years, with regular routes to South America, Africa and Europe, Wordlaw said she hopes she can be a role model to kids who stare at the sky like she once did.

"She is that role model to at least one local teenager. Her 13-year-old son dreams of being a pilot one day, just like his mom.

"'It just makes a difference to see someone who looks like you,' she says in the documentary, noting that she has been hugged and kissed while walking through airports in her uniform."


Comments welcome.


1. From Warren Mercer:

I enjoyed the story on Nia Wordlaw. I know how it feels to be above the clouds and to realize that there must be a higher power somewhere.

My job has taken me from Taiwan to Sweden and everywhere in between. I loved to fly and it showed. I was a supervisor at Westinghouse working on a nuclear reactor in MI when the towers fell. That day gave me the impetus to fly even more.

I have never given in to fear. I overcame my mom being gunned down in front of me at 2-years-old (she survived), to people being murdered on my front porch by the time I was 18. Growing up on welfare forced me to dream big. All of my dreams that I ever had came true.

The only one that I ever had and wanted to do was go to Paris in the springtime. I went on my 34th birthday. I finished HS, college, and a four-year apprenticeship at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard as an inside machinist. I made supervisor shortly after going to work for Westinghouse in the mid-90's. Isn't it wonderful when your dreams come true!

Tonight's program was an accolade to the triumph of the human spirit in women, but it spoke well about the human spirit in us all. Godspeed to you all! In an ode to R, Kelly - "I believe I can fly." And it shows.

2. From Shirley Cody, Nashville:

I watched the documentary tonight; how awesome and inspiring!!! Kudos on a job well-done concerning the lives of these amazing women!!


Posted on September 25, 2015

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