Black History: Bessie Coleman

29 reasons to celebrate Black History Month: No. 13, Bessie Coleman

February marks Black History Month. Follow the AJC this month for a series of short stories and videos and people, places and events that played a significant role in the development of black people in America. 

No. 13

Bessie Coleman: When is the last time you boarded an airplane helmed by a black pilot? Now think about the last time – if ever – that you got on plane piloted by a black woman. As rare as that might be think of the world Bessie Coleman lived in.

She was born in 1892 in Atlanta, Texas into a family of sharecroppers. How could she even dream about flight when she had to walk four miles to her segregated school every day?

It wasn’t until she moved to Chicago to work as a manicurist that she started hearing fantastic stories from World War I pilots who were returning home from Europe. Unable to get training in the United States, backers sent her to Europe to study to become a pilot.

On June 15, 1921 in France, Coleman became the first black woman to earn an aviation pilot's license, and the first black person to get an international aviation license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.

In an age before commercial flight, she made a living as "Queen Bess," and toured the world as a barnstorming stunt flier. Coleman died at the age of 34 in 1926. In 2006, she was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

Bessie Coleman was the first African-American woman to receive a patent. It was for a hand-operated machine that kneaded and rolled bread dough.

Reason No. 14: Civil Rights couples

More Black History Month stories from the AJC


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