A dream job for one KC man

06/28/2014 2:00 PM

06/26/2014 2:20 PM

The Vietnam War was raging in 1963 when Hinton “Sam” Shockley finished his service in the U.S. Air Force and returned home to Kansas City.


Having been trained by the military to repair planes, he planned to looking for work as a commercial aircraft mechanic.

Married, with his first child on the way, “my heart was set on TWA,” Shockley says. recalled Shockley who’d been trained by the military to repair planes.

But TWA said no. “They (TWA) told me no, I couldn’t be a mechanic there,” Shockley recalls, but that “they would hire me as a janitor,” recalled Shockley.”

It was the early ’60s, and employers could, and many did, choose not to hire a person people just because they were black. The then 23-year-old Shockley, then 23, wasn’t surprised. It certainly wasn’t his first meeting with +racism+racial inequality.

Until 1958, he’d lived in Little Rock, Ark., and attended segregated schools. He’d gone to high school with students who, escorted by the National Guard, broke the color barrier to attend an all-white high school. History books call them the Little Rock Nine.

“As a young kid coming up+,+ I didn’t have any great goals,” Shockley says. He joined the military service in 1959, the year after his family moved to Kansas City. “To my great surprise, the military told me they were sending me to aircraft repair school.” With that skill, and knowing TWA had headquarters in Kansas City, Shockley found his career aim.

“When I think about that civil rights legislation, I know that it was because of it that I was able to fulfill my life’s ambition,” Shockley says.

But since racial inequality had slammed shut the doors to the job he’d trained years for,+

After being shut out at TWA,+ Shockley went to work on an assembly line at the area’s Ford plant for two years and two months.

“When I think about that civil rights legislation, I know that it was because of it that I was able to fulfill my life’s ambition,” Shockley said.

Two years after the 1964 Civil Rights Act was signed into law, Shockley heard from a friend on the assembly line that TWA was hiring.

“On Feb. 28, 1966, I became a full-fledged aircraft mechanic at TWA,” Shockley says. He was one of the first three black mechanics hired there. Making friends at work was hard for a while.

But it changed, says Shockley, who spent almost his entire working life as a structural repair mechanic at TWA.

He’s 73 now and has been retired for 15 years. He lives with his wife, Mary, in Lee’s Summit. The couple have three grown children. All are successful.

“My children had no excuse,” he says. “I was qualified+,+ and the doors were still shut. But today if you qualify, the doors are open.”

To reach Mará Rose Williams, call 816-234-4419 or send email to mdwilliams@kcstar.com.

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