The controversy surrounding Emory Conrad Malick, Sunbury’s first “black” aviator

By: Amy L Thomas
– The Sunbury American – Harrisburg100

A controversy began when the Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine published an article in March 2011 entitled “The Unrecognized First”. The article explains that Mary Groce, a descendant of Emory Conrad Malick, found a picture of her great uncle and believed he appeared black. Upon seeing his picture, Groce and her cousin, Aileen exclaimed “Oh my God, he’s black” and “This explains my brother’s blond afro!” The black and white picture shows a man with a cap covering his hair, flying an early airplane. The article’s picture closely matches a picture of Emory shown in an advertisement with the label “E C Malick” for the Curtiss School of Aviation Class of 1912, seeming to confirm the identification of the individual in the photo. But no one authenticated the claim and there was not even a claim of a family tradition of being black. In fact, the descendant stated, “I was never told about Emory or my mixed heritage.

The fact that Emory was a pioneer aviator is not in doubt. There are plenty of documents showing his attendance at the Curtiss Aviation School, visiting his parents in Northumberland County, and performing aerial exhibitions in the area. His exploits are described in the local newspapers for approximately 19 years. But all contemporaneous records have shown that Emory and other members of the extended family were indeed, white. Of course, having the first black anything would be an honor for any family to claim, but it would need to be based on established facts and documentation to have any value.

The claim that Emory Conrad Malick was the First Black Aviator might have gone unchallenged if not for a book published in 2014 by black aviation historian, Guy E Franklin, titled “Emory Conrad Malick: A Closer Look”. In Franklin’s book, Guy methodically outlines the case that Emory was in all actuality, white. He even included research on Emory’s membership in the The Independent Order of Odd Fellows, which was limited to white members at that time.

Multiple contemporaneous documents show not only that Emory was white, but that he had a “ruddy complexion, brown hair, and blue eyes”. The class picture alone from the Curtiss Aviation School would not prove that the written record is incorrect and that Emory was black or that perhaps that he may have been pretending to be white. Emory his parents, grandparents, and other ancestors as well as siblings all self-identified as being white.

Darius Malick (father) E C Malick (middle) Susan Conrad (mother)

The Sunbury Daily Item on 16 Jun 2013, added the claim that “His Malick ancestors, already of mixed European and African heritage, came to Pennsylvania from Germany in the 1700s.” To date, there has been no record found of any proof of mixed African heritage in the Malick family in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania. Please note, the people of Northumberland County did not nor would not care if these pioneers were white or black or members of any other ethnic group. But claims of this importance require evidence and all the evidence says the Malick families were white (reference 1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, etc US census records as well as modern DNA ethnicity reports). 

Many Conrad/Malick descendants have completed genetic DNA testing done and they have yet to nd any in this line that show African descent in the ethnicity report. While some African DNA could support this premise, the lack of African DNA, even in trace amounts, suggests that they are not of African descent. In particular, one person who is a descendant of Darius Malick and Susanna Conrad showed no African ancestry in an ancestry.com autosomal test. 

Mary Groce with E C Malick Photo
Mary Groce has developed a narrative based off of her interpretation of a photograph and for over a decade has perpetuated said narrative across the country. But she has provided no evidence to support her claims, in fact, the evidence that is available shows her narrative to be false. Her own DNA results, via Ancestry.com, show that she does not possess any genes that can be directly linked to peoples of color from Africa. Her claim that the Malick line of her family, from which she is related to Emory by, was of color, even in part, has never been shown to be factual and is, for all intents and purposes, the ramblings of an individual intent on forcing the world to buy into her story. This goes beyond whether Emory was indeed of color and identi ed as white, like his entire family, because all the evidence shows that he was, in fact, white. Mary Groce has crafted a narrative based on one old photograph and a misconceived notion of racial identity and, as such, must either provide concrete evidence to prove herself in the right, or step aside and allow her Conrad and Malick relatives to tell the true story of Emory.

In conclusion, it seems that Guy Franklin’s investigation and conclusion that Emory was more likely white seems obvious. An independent observer would note that there are no indications anywhere in the record to suggest that Emory in particular or the Darius Malick family in general were black or even of mixed black ancestry. One would expect a high standard of evidence for declaring someone to be the First Black anything. Emory Conrad Malick does not meet this standard. Several museums and other such organizations took Ms. Groce at her word and have embraced the claims without validating the information.
As a distant cousin of Emory C Malick, I myself reached out to Mary Groce asking her to contact me and discuss her claims about Emory, but received no response.

I would like to thank Guy E Franklin, Tim Conrad and the facebook group Tuskegee Airman for all their help and research on this endeavor and all of our continued efforts to correct this claim that Emory Conrad Malick was the first black aviator, for it is an honor that truly belongs to Charles Ward Chappelle who earned a club license in 1911.

For a more in depth look including pictures, records and newspaper clippings, please visit our family research page – http://www.ancest4.com/emory_malick.shtml

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2 thoughts on “The controversy surrounding Emory Conrad Malick, Sunbury’s first “black” aviator”

  1. They called him the Birdman in Sunbury. And he was also a master tile layer (he laid the tiles in what later became the Mansion in Sunbury, where my grandmother Annie, Emory’s sister, died). I wish you had contacted me (nicely) before publishing your story, Amy. I went the same route you did with my research, but then found out more about race in our family (at least the Malick side), and more about Uncle Emory (for instance, Chief Anderson of the Tuskegee Airmen admitted on tape that Emory was, in fact, the first licensed black pilot; and two other original Tuskegee Airmen here in Philly, who are still alive and well, knew Ernie Buehl, who was Emory’s partner in the Flying Dutchman Air Service). Also, I never claimed Emory Malick was the first black pilot. I said the first LICENSED black pilot, having earned his FAI license in 1912, because I knew about Charles Wesley Peters, who might have flown before Uncle Emory, but who was unlicensed. I also learned that members of mixed families in Pa. were generally always listed as white. It had to do with the state choosing to misrepresent how many black citizens lived here. Aunt Alice Malick (Darius’s sister) was also clearly black, but also listed as white. She worked as a servant, and Emory was erased from history. Same reason: racism. I gave a lecture about Emory Conrad Malick at the Northumberland County Historical Society a couple of years ago, and folks were outraged that they had never even heard of Sunbury’s First Aviator. I’m also sorry you erred on the side of believing Guy Franklin instead of me and the Smithsonian. Btw, Guy told me that he, too, was listed as white on his birth certificate, for the same reason that Emory was. If you read Guy’s little book carefully, you can see how he contradicts himself several times during his feeble attempt to rewrite history and alter the facts. Guy, too, refused to consult with me before writing about Emory Conrad Malick, even though he knew I have primary material that I would have been happy to share with another historian (as opposed to sharing with someone with a sinister agenda, who really doesn’t want to know any actual facts, other than what’s available in public records). An African American archivist, Rachel Jones Williams, who works in Harrisburg told me, “We have to find our history between the lines.” No one is about to spell it out for us. We’ve got to do the deep digging ourselves.

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    1. As I stated in the Conrad Family FB Group…I reiterate:
      There is NO proof whatsoever that Emory was black. Several of us had our DNA test and there is not one drop. What documentation do you have that he was black? We searched every newspaper article, census record, public directories, birth certs, death certs, marriage licenses, historical books….nothing to that validates your claims. I have not erred and I take my research very seriously. I do find your timeline to be fascinating though…you discovered the picture in 2004 but did nothing with it til Jan 2011. Feb…well, I know what you did that month, then in March things started rolling. I find that very interesting. How far back have you taken your tree and Emory’s? I have spoken with numerous Conrad’s, Malick’s, Raker’s, Epler, Wolfe, Krissinger and Cooper descendants and each one of them were in agreement with myself and several others. If I am wrong….please prove it and and irrefutable proof. A DNA report, medical record, legal document that clearly states his race. Til then, I will continue my investigation.

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