Bessie Coleman- Black History Month

Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman the first woman of African-American descent and the first of Native American descent, to hold a pilot license as well.

Early Life

Bessie Coleman was born in 1892, in Texas to George Coleman, who was mostlyĀ CherokeeĀ and part African-American, and Susan Coleman, who was African-American. She would go through great lengths to get an education, and every year, her regular routine would include the cotton harvest. At the end of graduation, she would enroll atĀ the Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University (now Langston University), but drop out due to finances.

In 1915, she moved to Chicago , where she beganĀ  reading stories ofĀ World War IĀ pilots, which sparked her interest in aviation. She worked as a manicurist, but took a second job at a chili parlor to get more money to become a pilot.


Because flying schools did not allow women or people of color, she taught herself French and moved to France, earning her license from the Caudron Brother’s School of Aviation in just seven months. Coleman specialized in stunt flying and parachuting.

When she returned to the United States, she knew flying as entertainment could provide financial benefits for an aviator but needed to get some publicity to launch her career.Ā Her first appearance was an air show, in a plane borrowed from Glenn Curtiss. She would fly in New York, Memphis, Chicago and Texas.

In her own right, one of Bessie’s ultimate goals is to begin a school for African-Americans to go to flying school. In fact,Ā sheĀ opened a beauty shop in Orlando to hasten her accumulation of funds, and borrowed planes for exhibitions (where she refused to perform unless the audiences were desegregated and everyone attending used the same gates. She lectured in black theaters in Florida and Georgia.

Awards and Recognition

Upon her death in 1926 due to the test flight gone wrong (mechanic losing control), she would be recognized for her achievements. In 1929, Her dream of a flying school for African Americans became a reality when William J. Powell established the Bessie Coleman Aero Club in Los Angeles.

She has been commemorated by the U.S. Postal Service with her own stamp in 1995. Several locations have been named after her, including a public library in Chicago, several roads by international airports in Frankfurt, Texas and Illinois and more.Ā In 2006, she was inducted into theĀ National Aviation Hall of Fame.