Bessie Coleman: First African-American woman and first Native American to hold a pilot license set to be honoured on US Quarter

On June 15, 1921, trailblazing aviator Bessie Coleman beat the odds to rewrite the history books when she earned her license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, she became the first Black person to earn an international pilot’s license.

Coleman overcame the odds of poverty and discrimination to take her place as a brave history maker and now, in honour of her glowing legacy, the United States Mint has announced that plans for the depiction of the pioneer set to appear on the reverse (tails side) of 2023 quarters. Coleman will be honored as a new addition to the American Women Quarters™ Program.

“The range of accomplishments and experiences of these extraordinary women speak to the contributions women have always made in the history of our country,” said Mint deputy director Ventris C. Gibson, according to a press release.

“I am proud that the Mint continues to connect America through coins by honoring these pioneering women and their groundbreaking contributions to our society.”

Bessie Coleman (January 26, 1892 – April 30, 1926), aka Queen Bess and Brave Bessie, born to a family of sharecroppers in Texas developed an early passion for flying, but she noticed that African Americans, Native Americans, and women had no flight training opportunities in the United States, so she saved and obtained sponsorships to go to France for flight school.

After successfully achieving her mission, the daredevil became a high-profile pilot in notoriously dangerous air shows, performing flying tricks, such as doing “loop-the-loops” and making the shape of an “8” in an airplane in the United States. Her mission was to inspire other women and African Americans to reach their dreams. Also an active activist, she stood up against segregation refusing to refuse to speak anywhere that was segregated or discriminated against African Americans. In 1922, she performed the first public flight by an African American woman.

On April 30, 1926, Bessie Coleman took an ill-fated test flight with a mechanic William Wills who was on the wheels of the plane, while Coleman sat in the passenger seat. At about 3,000 feet in the air, a loose wrench got stuck in the engine of the aircraft. Wills lost control of the steering wheel and the plane flipped over. Unfortunately, Coleman was not wearing a seatbelt and immediately fell out of the plane and died. Wills also crashed the aircraft a few feet away from Coleman’s body and also died.

During her funeral, thousands of mourners gathered including the famous activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett who performed the funeral service to honor Coleman in Chicago.

Coleman’s legacy, inspiring millions across the world has since lived on. In 1977, African American women pilots formed the Bessie Coleman Aviators Club and in 1995, the “Bessie Coleman Stamp” was made in her honour.

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