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First Black Air Traffic Controller for ROA shares his story this Black History Month

Published: Feb. 8, 2021 at 6:24 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - This Black History Month, we’re taking time to hear the stories of people in our hometowns. That includes a man who was the first Black air traffic controller at the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport.

Freddie Delbridge joined the Air Force at 18 years old, and it was those four years in the Air Force, including one in Vietnam, that shaped his future in the airline industry.

“I got a job as an air traffic controller, well during that time, I didn’t even know what an air traffic controller was, never even rode on an airplane, never been to an airport,” Delbridge said.

After leaving the military, Delbridge, who grew up in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, was offered a job in a different Roanoke he knew nothing about - the one here in Virginia.

“I came to Roanoke with all my worldly possessions in my car and started work as an air traffic controller at Roanoke Airport, April 1st, 1974,” he said.

And it was that day Delbridge became the first Black air traffic controller at the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport.

“It wasn’t a big deal to me because I was used to being the only Black person where I worked. For years prior to that when I was in the military, every airport that I worked at I was the only Black there, so it was common for me to be the only Black,” Delbridge said.

Except for Vietnam, where he said 30% of the airport staff was Black.

Delbridge worked in air traffic for 28 years, and he was also the first Black air traffic control supervisor in Roanoke. He said he is sharing his story because he believes more Black people, who are still living, should be recognized for their accomplishments.

“It’s a shame that we get only one month to talk about Blacks’ accomplishments, where it should be 12 months of it,” Delbridge said.

He also hopes his story will inspire others to pursue careers in air traffic control.

“It was real rewarding for me, I gained a lot, and it made me a better person I believe,” he said.

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