5 Things You Didn't Know About the First African-American Woman to Fly a Plane
Elizabeth "Bessie" Coleman's name may not be widely known though she was a trailblazer in aviation for both her gender and race.
Coleman was born on January 26, 1892 in Atlanta, Texas, to a family of cotton field tenant farmers. In addition to overcoming a world of poverty and discrimination, she also managed to become a licensed pilot.
Here are five things you didn't know about this remarkable woman:
1. Bessie traveled to France in order to become a pilot
When Coleman moved to Chicago to live with her brothers, she was surrounded by soldiers returning from World War I who recounted their flying adventures. It was then when she first became interested in a career in aviation. But every flying school Bessie approached in America refused to enroll her as a student because she was both black and a woman. On November 20, 1920, she moved from New York to Paris to pursue her dream of flying.
2. It took Coleman only seven months to learn how to fly
Bessie was taught on a biplane that often failed, even while up in the air. During her training, she witnessed a classmate die in a plane crash. While she described the experience as a
"terrible shock" she never gave up on her dream.
3. Bessie was the first licensed African-American pilot in the world
In June 1921, she received an international pilot's license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.
4. Bessie refused to perform at air shows that did not admit members of her race
After receiving her pilot license, Coleman performed stunts at air shows throughout the nation but only accepted offers to perform for shows that were desegregated and where both blacks and whites could enter through the same gates.
5. Her success and incredible life have been remembered in many ways
Coleman died on April 30, 1926 in Jacksonville, Fla., while taking a tragic final flight. In 1977, a group of African American female pilots created the Bessie Coleman Aviators Club in her memory. And in 1992, the U.S. Postal Service issued a Bessie Coleman stamp in response to a resolution from the Chicago City Council. The resolution stated: "Bessie Coleman continues to inspire untold thousands even millions of young persons with her sense of adventure, her positive attitude, and her determination to succeed."
As we remember Bessie on her birthday, we hope her legacy will continue to pave the way for women entering the field of aviation.
Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images