The first time I heard of Bessie Coleman I was around 13 years old and I was looking at a US postal stamp. The young black woman wearing a pilot cap and aviator glasses intrigued me. At the time, I remembered learning about Amelia Earhart in elementary school, but who was Bessie Coleman or as some people called her “Brave Bessie”? I then, started an intellectual journey to find out.
Born in Texas around 1893, she was the 10th child of 13. Bessie’s mother saw that her daughter was gifted in math and sent her to school. Bessie even went on to college, which was uncommon for a young black female during this time. Unfortunately she did not have enough money to finish and started working as a laundress and then as a manicurist. After listening to one of her brothers, a World War I veteran, she heard about women in France who were pilots and made up in her mind that she also wanted to be a pilot. A spark ignited within her and she learned French and enrolled in Ecole d’Aviation des Freres Caudon at Le Crotoy in France. In 1921 she received her pilots license from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. She was the first licensed black pilot in the US. During her life she was considered one of “the world’s greatest woman flyer.” In 1926, she died in a plane crash and it wasn’t until 2000 that she was inducted int he Texas Aviation Hall of Fame. (source)
Children’s Books about Bessie Coleman:
- Fly High! The Story Of Bessie Coleman
- Nobody Owns the Sky: The Story of “Brave Bessie” Coleman
- Bessie Coleman: Daring to Fly
- 101 Fast Facts (Fact #73 Bessie Coleman)
- PBS: Bessie Coleman
- Bessie Coleman – Aviator
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