Bessie Coleman, an early American Civil Aviator, born in Atlanta, Tex., on Jan. 26, 1892, to Susan and George Coleman, day laborers, farmers and cotton pickers didn’t dream of the aviation world until after being taunted by her brother who had returned from France and was super impressed by their women were able to fly unlike the African American women who he believed would never fly, she set out to prove her brother John wrong.
Coleman reached out to several pilots for lessons, but couldn’t get accepted as a student. So she decided to journey to France to help reach her goal.
Language barrier didn’t stop the determined
Coleman, she studied French, solicited help from benefactors to help finance the venture alongside a higher-paying job managing a chili restaurant. On Nov. 20, 1920, she set off for Europe aboard the liner S.S. Imperator, then enrolled at the flight school founded by the aviation pioneers Gaston and René Caudron at Le Crotoy in the Somme in northern France.
There she began a seven-month course in flying a Nieuport Type 82, a 27-foot-long biplane with a 40-foot wingspan. Persistence paid off, in 1921 Coleman became the first black woman in the United States to earn a pilot’s license. The pioneer received her pilot’s license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.
The aviatrix didn’t relax after the feat, Coleman dreamt of opening a flight school in America as a way of empowering black people but she would not live till then.
The now high profile pilot loved showing off her skills and often engaged in notoriously dangerous air shows, earning her the name as Queen Bess and Brave Bessie. Coleman met a tragic death in 1926 in a plane crash while testing a new aircraft, aged 34.
She received several honors such as:
In 2001, Coleman was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
In 2006, she was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame, among others.