Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman

Personalities AE  96




Be honest, how many of you have heard of Bessie Coleman? I learned about her back in high school. I did a project for my Aviation Magnet program about African American women in Aviation and Bessie Coleman was the one that always stayed in my mind. Here’s the facts:

  • First African American to have a pilot’s license (1922)
  • First public flight by an African American woman in America (1922)
  • She taught herself French and moved to France to gain her license at the Caudron Brother’s School of Aviation (American schools denied her entry)
  • Was a stunt flyer and parachuting
  • Born Jan. 26, 1892 in Atlanta,Texas
  • Father was 1/4 African American and 3/4 Native American (Choctaw and Cherokee), Mother was African American
  • Because of racial intolerance Father moved back to the reservation and her mother opted not to
  • Family ran a cotton picking business
  • Bessie was gifted at math from an early age and did bookkeeping for the family
  • At 23 (1915) moved to Chicago and walked as a manicurist
  • Her Aviation interested was sparked when she read World War 1 French women pilots stories
  • Was tragically killed on April 30, 1926 when rehearsing for her aerial show. (33 yr.s old)
  • Nicknamed Queen Bess or Brave Bessie
  • 1929, Lt. William J. Powell founded the Bessie Coleman Aero Club (The aviation school Bessie wanted to establish, in Los Angeles)
  • 1931, Challenger Pilots’ Association of Chicago did a flyover above Lincoln Cemetery in her honor
  • The book “Black Wings” was dedicated to her by Lt. Powell in 1934
  • 1977, women pilots in Chicago founded the Bessie Coleman Aviators Club
  • 1990, Chicago road re-named Bessie Coleman Drive
  • 1995, U.S.P.S issued Bessie Coleman stamp
  • 2000, inducted into the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame

Here’s to you Ms. Coleman



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