Friday, February 10, 2012
Brave Bessie Coleman -- Do You Know Who She Was?
Since Febraury is black history month, I thought I would write a couple of posts about notable African Americans. We all know about the Tuskeegee airmen and their amazing record of service during World War 2, but did you know that the world's first black aviator was a woman? Her name was Bessie Coleman 1892-1926. I'm sure you can imagine what she was up against in those early days of flight before she even got into an airplane. Bessie Coleman grew up in Texas, one of thirteen children to a Native American father and an African American mother. She was a highly motivated young woman, who when she decided she wanted to fly, went for it. Of course, all aviation schools in the US were closed to her because of her race or gender or both.
So Bessie Coleman went to France where she was trained by both French and German aviators. She earned her pilot's license in 1921 and got her international pilot's license a year later. After she returned to the United States, she became an exhibition pilot. She was an inspiration to countless young people in her career as a barnstormer and speaker on aviation. She appeared in air shows across the country and became known as Brave Bessie.
Bessie wanted to open an aviation school for black youth, but before she could realize her goal, she was killed in Jacksonville, Florida, when the controls of her airplane jammed and she was thrown from the cockpit as the plane spun to the ground. It's estimated that 10,000 people attended her memorial service in Chicago. Bessie Coleman's career may have been brief, but she was an inspiration to many in the early days of aviation.