BlackFacts Details

Bessie Coleman, African American Woman Pilot

Known for: pioneer in aviation; first African American woman with a pilots license, first African American woman to fly a plane; first American with an international pilots license.

Occupation: aviator: stunt pilot

Dates: January 26, 1892 (some sources give 1893) - April 30, 1926

Also known as: Queen Bess, Brave Bessie

Bessie Coleman was born in Atlanta, Texas, in 1892.

The family soon moved to a farm near Dallas. Her father, George Coleman, moved to Indian Territory, Oklahoma, in 1901, where he had rights, based on having three Indian grandparents. His wife, Susan, with five of their children still at home, refused to go with him. She supported the children by picking cotton and taking in laundry and ironing.

Susan, Bessie Colemans mother, encouraged her daughters education, though she was herself illiterate, and though Bessie had to miss school often to help in the cotton fields or to watch her younger siblings. After Bessie graduated from eighth grade with high marks, she was able to pay, with her own savings and some from her mother, for a semesters tuition at an industrial college in Oklahoma.

When she dropped out of school after a semester, she returned home, working as a laundress. In 1915 she moved to Chicago to stay with her two brothers who had already moved there.

She went to beauty school, and became a manicurist, where she met many of the black elite of Chicago.

Bessie Coleman had read about the new field of aviation, and her interest was heightened when her brothers regaled her with tales of French women flying planes in World War I. She tried to enroll in aviation school, but was turned down.

It was the same story with other schools where she applied.

One of her contacts through her job as a manicurist was Robert S. Abbott, publisher of the Chicago Defender. He encouraged her to go to France to study flying there. She got a new position managing a chili restaurant while studying French at the Berlitz school. She followed Abbotts advice, and, with funds from several sponsors including

Dr. Cornel West - Race Matters