Flying is such a normal thing in the world of today, it’s the quickest way to get from point A to point B. Anyone who has an inkling to become a pilot can essentially do so today. Bessie Coleman was an American aviator, the first African-American and the first Native-American woman to hold a pilot license.
She was born in January 1892 in Texas and had 12 brothers and sisters. Her mother was an African American maid and her father was a Native American. In 1901 her family separated and Bessie grew up working alongside her mother to save money for college. When she was 18 Bessie enrolled in the Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University, now Langston University. However, her schooling didn’t last long and she returned home to Texas. Bessie wasn’t one to settle, soon after she made her way to Chicago where she worked as a manicurist. While living in Chicago she became enamored with flying. She picked up a second job and started to save money for pilot school.
Unfortunately, Bessie lived during a time when being a professional woman wasn’t accepted and being a woman of color made existing even harder. It was recommended she look into pilot schools overseas in France, so Bessie started taking French classes at night. With financial backing she took the plunge and moved to Le Crotoy, France to attend the Caudron Brother’s School of Aviation. She received her international pilot’s license on June 15, 1921. Bessie had bigger dreams than just flying, she wanted to own her own plane and open her own flight school.
“I decided blacks should not have to experience the difficulties I had faced, so I decided to open a flying school and teach other black women to fly”
She became a stunt flier, performing for audiences to save money for her dreams. She became known as Queen Bess and was highly popular. For extra money she would show her filmed stunt shows in churches, theaters, and schools. She refused to speak or show her films anywhere that was segregated or discriminated against African Americans.
“The air is the only place free from prejudice.”
Bessie worked hard toward her goals, never giving up and never backing down in the face of discrimination. Bessie died on April 30, 1926 in a test flight accident. She was the passenger when the plane flipped, and she was expelled out of the aircraft. It was a tragedy felt by many, but her life inspired thousands. In remembrance of her life the Challenger Pilots’ Association of Chicago started a tradition of flying over her grave every year. In 1977 the Bessie Coleman Aviators Club was formed by African American women pilots, and in 1995 the “Bessie Coleman Stamp” was made in her honor.
Bessie “Queen Bess” Coleman broke boundaries across the board. She defied society to achieve her goals and people continually look to her for inspiration.
Written By: Alicia Whitcome