With the renaming of James Herman Banning Ames Municipal Airport in Ames, Iowa, on June 17, 2023, there are now eight airports in the United States named in honor of a great Black American. The long journey to rename these airports serves as a reminder that there needs to be greater representation in our airspace and travel industries: only a tiny fraction of the nation’s 19,000 airports bear the names of African Americans.
We recognize National Air Traffic Control Day with these eight airports named for Black Americans, who are remembered every time we take a flight from one of these locations.
James Herman Banning Ames Municipal Airport—Ames, Iowa
James Herman Banning cemented himself in the history of aviation when he became one of the first Black pilots to successfully fly from the west coast to the east coast in the United States in the early 1930s. As one of the most notable Black pilots in early aviation history, the Iowa resident was honored with a renaming ceremony of the Story County airport in 2023. There, travelers can also learn more about Banning’s record-setting accomplishments through an exhibit within one of the airport’s terminals.
Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport—Rochester, New York
In 2021, Rochester, New York's international airport was officially renamed to recognize the accomplishments of Black abolitionist and Rochester resident Frederick Douglass. Located in the third most populated city in the state of New York, the renaming of the airport started with a sculpture. "Our project 'Re-energizing the Legacy of Frederick Douglass' put 15 fiberglass monuments on the streets of the city of Rochester for the Frederick Douglass birthday Bicentennial, which was in 2018," says Carvin Eisen, a professor at SUNY Brockport who helped spearhead the project. One of the sculptures now finds its home in the newly named Frederick Douglass Rochester Greater International Airport. "We suspect that somewhere around a million travelers a year come here. So this will be the first image that they see of Rochester and the last image that they take with them when they leave," he declares.
Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport—Birmingham, Alabama
Celebrated activist Fred L. Shuttlesworth stood strong against Jim Crow laws and deadly racism to see civil rights reforms come to fruition. The Mount Meigs, Alabama, native worked with other activist organizations in the 1960s to organize the historic Freedom Rides, marches and boycotts in the name of equality. In 2008, Shuttlesworth’s name was added to the state’s largest airport, which was renamed Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport to honor the pastor’s legacy.
Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport—Baltimore, Maryland
Ambitious Baltimore lawyer Thurgood Marshall made history in 1967 when he was named a justice on the nine-panel United States Supreme Court, the first Black American to ever hold the position. Throughout the entirety of his law career and his 25 years on the Bench, Marshall advocated and secured victories for women’s autonomy and civil rights. In 2005, the Maryland airport changed its name to the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to honor this civil rights pioneer.
Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport—Louisville, Kentucky
He is known as "The Greatist," so it's a pleasant surprise to see an airport bearing the professional boxer and activist's chosen name. On June 16, 2019, the Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport official got its new name after its hometown boxing hero who was born and raised in the city. The name change is hailed by many in the community, especially its Muslim population, who find great meaning in the decision. During the renaming celebration, Muhammad Ali's daughter Maryum stated that the name change could be a source of hope. She shared that her father would have responded in true Ali fashion: "That's something, man. This is big. This is beautiful."
Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport—Jackson, Mississippi
World War II veteran Medgar Evers dedicated his life to advocating for racial equality after returning from the military. He worked tirelessly to desegregate education and eradicate Jim Crow in Mississippi, putting his own life on the line for change. His assassination in 1963 spurred an intense outcry within the Black community and a fiercer push for civil rights, with the Civil Rights Act being passed a year later. In January 2005, Jackson renamed its airport Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport, in honor of the civil rights martyr.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport—Atlanta, Georgia
The grandson of activist John Wesley Dobbs, Morehouse graduate Maynard Jackson made his own history as the first Black mayor of Atlanta. As he worked to reform the city’s police department during his two consecutive terms as mayor, he paid special attention to the city’s airport. After working to expand and modernize the facility, the city voted to rename the airport to pay homage to the former mayor after his death in 2003. Today, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport serves millions of travelers as one of the busiest airports in the United States.
Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport—New Orleans, Louisiana
Louis Armstrong is one of the most beloved figures in music and a staple of the budding jazz scene of the 1920s. While the raspy-voiced musician worked to revolutionize the genre with hits such as “What a Wonderful World,” the New Orleans native, known as “Satch,” left his mark on all of America. In 2001, Armstrong’s hometown renamed their local airport to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport to pay homage to the iconic Louisiana trumpeter.