Bessie Coleman

“The Only Race Aviatrix in the World” was born the tenth of thirteen children in the early 1890s. Growing up in the cotton fields of Waxahachie, TX, Bessie Coleman longed for the chance to “amount to something.”

So after developing an interest in the then-new profession of aviation while working as a manicurist and restaurant manager in Chicago, Coleman set out to become the world’s first licensed black pilot.

When she was unable to find an American aviation school that would accept a black woman, Coleman took night classes to learn French and headed to the Caudron Brothers School of Aviation in Le Crotoy, France.

With American discrimination keeping her from becoming a commercial pilot, Coleman went on to train in stunt flying, or barnstorming, and parachuting. To earn money, she gave speeches and showed films of her air tricks in schools, theaters, and churches—but only those that did not segregate or discriminate against African-Americans.

As Coleman’s public flights and aerial performances became popular in the U.S. and abroad, she dreamed of opening an aviation school for blacks. She fundraised and saved money, but Coleman’s life was cut short by an aerial accident before she could open the school.

The Bessie Coleman Aero Club was opened after her death, and Coleman’s legacy of tenacity and determination and her unfailing belief in equality inspired the generations of black aviators after her, including the Tuskegee airman.