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Among the Airmen a Rose - - Rose Cousins

Among the Airmen … A Rose
 
In 1941 the original 11 graduates from West Virginia State College’s  pilot training program traveled to Tuskegee Alabama  to try out for the U.S. Air Force training program for black combat pilots.  The group consisted of 10 men and one woman – Rose Agnes Rolls.  She, too, was a licensed pilot from West Virginia State’s program.
 
Rose got her first introduction to airplanes when she was a girl.  Pilots would come to her home town of Fairmont, WV and charge a dollar for a ride in their planes.  At age six she rode in a biplane with the father.  That exhilarating experience was never forgotten.
 
At 16 Rose enrolled at West Virginia State College.  It was while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration that Rose “pushed” her way into the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP).  (West Virginia State was the first of six historically black colleges granted permission by the government to establish such a program. ) When she first asked the director, James C. Evans, to join the program he replied, “I don’t think so.  They are training men to go into the military. “
 
She persisted until Evans relented.  He wrote a series of letters to government officials asking if one female could join the program.  Finally word came back that she could join if she could pass the same mental and physical exams as the men.  She did.  Along side the men in the program Rose had to learn how to put the plane in a spin and pull it back out again, to land with the engine off, and to fly upside down.
 
To get her license Rose had to complete a solo cross-country flight using only a compass and sight as her guides.  Despite strong winds she flew from Institute to Parkersburg, WV making a few stops along the way.  Upon her graduation Rose received her pilot’s license making her the first African American woman licensed under the CPTP. 
 
She stayed on at West Virginia State working with the CPTP.  When the ten men went to Tuskegee she went too.  Given that the Air Force was barely prepared to accept black men, it wasn’t surprising that they refused Rose’s bid.  It was a disappointment to the 21 year old.  She returned to West Virginia State where she married a junior tennis champion from New Jersey, Ted Cousins.  She eventually returned to Fairmont and settled into a career as manager of medical records for the Fairmont Clinic.
 
According to her daughter, Rose Cousins was inducted as an honorary member of the Tuskegee Airmen in the 1980s because of her flight experience, her training with the men who would become Airmen, and her tenacity in breaking down racial and gender barriers.
 
Rose Rolls Cousins passed away in 2006.    
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