Black History Month: We Salute Our Pioneering Aviators

by FedEx Global Media

February 11, 2019

Three stories, one vision for equality.

In celebration of Black History Month, we’re saluting FedEx aviators through the stories of the first African-American FedEx pilot, the first female African-American FedEx pilot, and an inspiring father-son flying duo.


FedEx Captain Carroll Waters Stood Tall and Blazed a Trail for Minority Pilots Who Followed

February 11, 2019

For those who were fortunate enough to know Captain Carroll Waters, the first African-American pilot for FedEx, they’ll quickly describe a larger than life individual who truly led by example. Raised in eastern Virginia during the tail end of the Great Depression, Captain Waters’ meager beginnings hardly foreshadowed the incredible impact he was going to have on the advancement of minority aviators.

Following college, the young Virginian joined the U.S. Army in 1958 and displayed a clear love and propensity for all things aviation; so much so, he earned a spot at the Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker (Alabama) where he thrived under the tutelage of Walter Crenshaw, an original member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, the renowned group of African-American military pilots who flew during War II.

Following the stint at Fort Rucker, Waters continued training for a number of years prior to seeing combat duty in Vietnam. Flying the CV2B, a two-engine, short take-off and landing plane, during the conflict, he was honorably discharged in 1966 and ultimately earned a Bronze Star, an Air Medal, and a National Defense Service Medal among other distinctions.

However, following his military service, Waters immediately realized the prospects of finding a job as a pilot back home were limited, particularly given the volatile state of race relations during the time. As a result, the 30-year-old committed himself to making a difference by forming an agency that helped develop anti-poverty programs. But as he strove to give a voice to those who needed one, he couldn’t help but feel there was something missing in his life. Yes, he missed the cockpit more than words could explain.

His fortune took a huge step in the right direction when a friend who worked at an employment agency informed him that a young businessman, who also had served in Vietnam, had started an airline delivery company in Little Rock, AR. The business model was quite novel, and given Captain Waters was certain no one was ready to hire a black pilot, the war veteran turned consultant could not, at first, bring himself to call this little known company, Federal Express.

But thanks to considerable coaxing by his friend, Captain Waters did pick up the phone, and as is often said about remarkable stories such as this one, the rest is history. Anecdotally, the phone call exchange played out as follows after Waters heard the “hello” on the other end:

Waters: “I’m a black pilot and I’m looking for a job.”

Fred Smith: “When can you get here?”

And on New Year’s Day 1973 following a meeting with Fred Smith, Carroll Waters became employee #373, representing just the third pilot for the start-up. According to Smith, the primary objective at the time was to secure qualified people to get FedEx off the ground and help it grow, and Waters definitely fit the bill.

Waters initially Captained a Falcon aircraft, and shortly thereafter, the company moved to Memphis. Through the years, the Captain remembered fondly the fact that there were only about 20 packages on that initial flight compared to the millions that currently work their way through the FedEx system each night. As many will attest, he was extremely proud of playing a part in building such an amazing business.

But while others may have been content to focus on the job, Waters reflected on his journey to that point, and was called to inspire others to chase their dreams. And in 1976, the trailblazer did it again as one of the founders of OBAP (the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals). Forty years later, the group is still going strong, encouraging minority youth to explore and actively pursue aviation careers. The recently retired Captain Albert Glenn recalls meeting Waters during the mid-70s and was impressed by his presence and focus on mentoring.

“He was the first black airline pilot I had seen, and he had the quintessential pilot “look” – very professional, and strictly business. At the time, I didn’t realize that first impression would set the tone for my own career. He became my mentor, and until the day he passed, he always treated me like a son.”

When it was all said and done, Captain Waters flew for the Purple & Orange for 23 years until his retirement in 1996 at age 60. By that milestone, he had flown a variety of airplanes, including the 727, the 737, the DC10 and DC10-30. Waters eventually passed in March 2015, and at the request of his family, his ashes were flown back to his birthplace – Wicomico, VA. Fittingly, Albert Glenn was the Captain on that flight.

While Captain Waters is not with us anymore, his legacy flourishes, markedly defined by a true sense of humility that is so perfectly captured in the following attribution.

“Some days, it hardly felt like work. It felt like a privilege. Without the opportunity that Fred Smith gave me, who knows if I would have flown professionally again or, if I had, if I would have been treated so genuinely.”

During this Black History Month and beyond, we shall look to honor Carroll Waters’ life by treating one another genuinely, with the respect and dignity he extended others throughout his career. FedEx is forever indebted to this pioneer for the positive influence he had during his 23 years with the company, and is committed to keeping his story alive so that it may inspire younger generations of aviators to realize (like Waters often said), “the sky is not the limit.”



Up Next:

For FedEx Captain Albert Glenn, Inspiring Our Youth is His Life’s Mission

Comments on Black History Month: We Salute Our Pioneering Aviators

    Sharon McNeal says:

    I began my Federal Express career along with Albert Glenn. Most recently visited with him when he was my captain while jumpseating from Detroit to Memphis years ago. Always fond memories. I’m blessed to have had him pass through my existence.

    Al Beck says:

    When I was young I wanted to be a Pilot. I salute all the Black Aviators from the Black Condor to Captain Carroll Waters.

    Angela J. (Coach A.J.) Nealy, M.S. says:

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

    Mark A Mccloud says:

    This make me very proud to be a FEDEX EMPLOYEE.

    James d Redding says:

    Thank you!! for this piece it was very eye opening for me, I did not know that we had such Great history within FedEx…. outstanding and thank you to Captain Carroll Waters and Captain Albert Glenn!! your legacy will carry on.

    Satish Sabnis says:

    Great inspiring story!!! I am fortunate to work with FedEx.

    Great way to Salute Capt. Waters.

    jose fernando robayo says:

    it was an emosionante and emotional summary.
    Thanks

    Belle says:

    !! WOW…these stories always touch my soul & heart…I love history..I hope inspiration is relieve to all that reads…BRAVO ZULO…FEDEX..*****

    Wanda Henley says:

    I didn’t know Captain Waters, but I have the privilege of knowing Captain Glenn and Captain Lamont-Brown. Both of them are very professional, polite crewmembers. It has been my pleasure to serve them in Jumpseats. They are a great example of what any FedEx crewmember should aspire to be.

    Greg Ables says:

    Yet another reason why I value my employment at FedEx… Opportunities abound.

    Thanks for the history lesson!

    Rosa Taylor says:

    Thank you for such a heart-warming story on each of our Pioneering Aviators. As a Hispanic/African American, this is what I want our younger generation to know and aspire. It does not matter whether you are African American, Caucasian, Asian or Hispanic, etc., you can go for your dreams and even further. I am going to share these stories with family and the younger generation. My son has his career in law enforcement and just gave me some great news. He will succeed as he is driven to go for what he wants. Thank you Fred Smith for giving Captain Carroll Waters the opportunity to achieve his dream.

    Leslie Miller says:

    I am so proud of all of the accomplishments. I would hope that African Americans would be acknowledged more than just in Black History Month

    Mischelle Kelley says:

    After reading this story I don’t need a cup of coffee to soothe my throat, because this story has “Soothe….My….Soul”
    I’m grateful for stories like this, but please let us not limit these types of warming stories to Black History Month…..Let’s Keep Them Coming!
    “D-I-V-E-R-S-I-T-Y makes the world humble (Mischelle).”

    ronald b says:

    This was a great story to hear.. that Mr. Waters was a part of building FedEx into a successful company..

    David Williams says:

    I was inspired while reading this article. Two trailblazers (Fred Smith & Carroll Waters) is an excellent example of fulfilling their destiny.

    Linda Neuy says:

    A great testament to the power of respect and determination. A true story that should be shared and never forgotten.

    Michael Farquharson says:

    I am very honored to work for such an organization like FedEx. I salute all those employees who make this organization inclusive on a daily basis and recognize the effort and hard work that makes FedEx one of Forbes top companies to work for. I celebrate black history month by paying tribute to pioneering black employees and those who continue to give their best to this company. Well done.

    Marilyn Mrazik says:

    I never knew this it made me cry not sure why, maybe because he said ” I am a black pilot”. Thank you for sharing this history.

    Edwina Brown-Harvey says:

    Very inspiring stories…thank you for sharing!

    Pam Johnson says:

    I had the pleasure of meeting Capt. Waters several years ago, and consider it an honor that our paths crossed. His legacy lives on through the many young people he inspired along the way.

    Renee K Aven says:

    What an inspiring story! And the hesitation of making the call for the position that turned his life into what he had hoped and worked hard for. Thank you for sharing and of his service to our country and being an inspiration.

    Frank Wilkerson says:

    Wow! I am an African American Field District Sales Manager at FedEx and am proud of the fact that our founder has always respected the power of diversity. Now, diversity is a common focus for most Fortune 100 companies. However, in 1973, diversity was unpopular so Fred Smith had to truly believe in the value of it. BRAVO ZULU FRED SMITH!

    JOE FERBY says:

    What a story of inspiration about pilot
    Carrol Waters.

    Chris Barber says:

    Thank you for honoring a great person, pilot and FedExer!

    TODD LE says:

    THAT WAS A REALLY COOL AND UPLIFTING STORY.

    Christopher Conner says:

    A great story of perseverance and courageous conviction of Mr. Smith to hire a qualified induvial. This story should be told to all new hires and throughout our industry.

    George Jones says:

    The story about Carroll Waters is very inspiring.

    Terry Benjamin says:

    This is a great story. I truly love this company because we live what we say. DIVERSITY is one of our greatest strengths!

    LaTonya Shellette Ausler says:

    Treasureable Memories Inspire me to Succeed.
    Thanks so much for your time and service. I am grateful for your impact on us all.

    Nakia Taylor says:

    Take great pride in reading such wonderful history with such and wonderful company. Thank you again for sharing.

    Kathi McWhorter says:

    I would love to see these people featured during a commercial during the NAACP Awards show. It would be inspiring for young people as the audience for this show is large. I work here, and I did not know that we had a black female pilot. Seeing people who look like you in these positions is more powerful than simply a “you can do anything you put your mind to” speech. Minorities really need the visuals as there are too many counter speeches to the positive speeches that tell them that they will never amount to anything, so the visuals are huge. I hope that FedEx considers doing this.

    Cynthia Moore says:

    Stories like these should be told throughout the year! For me, daily inspiration is encouraging and uplifting.

    Catherine Cooper says:

    Had the pleasure of meeting Captain Glenn during a short stint as the resident “computer person” in the old Flight Administration Building. Such a nice, approachable, professional airman. I am proud to know that he is steering others, especially African Americans, towards a career in the cockpit! At the time that I met him, there were no African American female pilots flying the Purple and Orange. Way to go Captain Tahirah Brown, way to go!

    Suzanne Cerny says:

    Thank you Captain Brown for inspiring all women to dream “BIG”…

    VeLa J says:

    These are wonderful stories of pride, courage, and commitment. Thanks for sharing.

    Jim Griffin says:

    These three stories renew within me the pride of servicing this great company…I had the privilege of serving with all of them….Outstanding!

    Yajaira Mesa says:

    This is a great story.

    Sammie Galloway says:

    Thanks . This story reminds me that FedEx was the best place in the world to work. P-S-P still lives with me because of stories like these.
    It’s the people!!!

    Kevin Askew says:

    The Capt. Carroll Waters story is truly inspiring and uplifting. Thank you for sharing this history.

    Olivia Batts says:

    I am so inspired by these stories! Thank you for sharing!

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