- Faith & Family
Gevene Dobson, 65, is enjoying life these days, taking trips across the state of Florida with other friends who are also retired. But years ago, when she was just in her 20s, Dobson broke new ground here in Miami. On December 13, 1966, after completing her training with Eastern Airlines, she began to work as a stewardess/flight attendant. There only were three Black women in her training class — two made it through their intensive studies, graduated and became Eastern Airlines employees.
“That was 45 years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday,” she said. “I flew for 24 years and loved every minute of it. When Eastern shut down in 1991, it was one of the saddest moments of my life. But life went on. And I have some amazing memories.”
Dobson was born in McCrae, Georgia, not far from Macon. Her father was in the military and moved his family to Miami when she was 10. She would graduate from Northwestern Senior High School and attended Florida State for one year. Then, she says, she began dreaming about traveling around the world.
“My mother told me that I would need a lot of money to go around the world so I applied for the Air Force and National Airlines — that was in early 1966,” she said. “National Airlines had us put on bathing suits and high heels and walk around the room. They never called me back. Then I heard that Eastern [based in Miami] was looking to hire stewardesses. There were about 300 people hoping to get hired. They chose three Black women.”
Challenges of being a Black stewardess in the 1960s
Dobson says she often flew the Miami to New York City route and remembers customers asking the white stewardesses who she was.
“They found it impossible to believe that I was a stewardess,” she said. “But most of the white women with whom I worked stood up for me and looked out for me too. I needed that a lot. Often times, I wound up sitting for entire flights because the people [white] refused to let me serve them. But once we landed and until Eastern began to secure hotel rooms for us late in the 1970s, I often could not find a place to stay. Even though I had on my uniform they would not let me stay in their hotels because I was Black. Eastern tried to put me on flights where I had family — in cities like Detroit or in states like New Jersey — so I would have somewhere to stay. The white girls would flip a coin to see who had to stay in the hotel room with me. Sometimes they had to sneak me into the rooms and bring me food until it was time for us to leave for the next flight.”
Dobson said she cried often but always had her mother to encourage her. Just before the airline shutdown, she flew with the troops who were part of the Gulf War, from Rome where she was stationed to Saudi Arabia.
“I learned how racist and mean people could be — but I also overcame that situation,” she said. “And I learned that there some good people in the world who didn’t care about the color my skin.”
By D. Kevin McNeir