Black Women in History: Bessie Coleman
Photo: Bessie Coleman, c. 1922
Bessie Coleman (January 26, 1892 – April 30, 1926) was an early American civil aviator. She was the first African-American woman and first Native-American to hold a pilot license. She earned her pilot license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale on June 15, 1921, and was the first black person to earn an international pilot's license.
Born to a family of sharecroppers in Texas, Coleman worked in the cotton fields at a young age while also studying in a small segregated school. She attended one term of college at Langston University. Coleman developed an early interest in flying, but 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.
She then became a high-profile pilot in notoriously dangerous air shows in the United States. She was popularly known as Queen Bess and Brave Bessie, and hoped to start a school for African-American fliers. Coleman died in a plane crash in 1926. Her pioneering role was an inspiration to early pilots and to the African-American and Native-American communities.
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