goGirl's: Taking the World, One Sky at a Time - September Edition
by Haley Guerin
Unafraid to challenge societal labels, Bessie Coleman proved to be a leader in aviation and social justice as she became the first African American female pilot.
On January 26th, 1892, a hero was born in a cramped one room home in Texas. Bessie Coleman was one of thirteen children fighting to rise above her impoverished background that presented many obstacles. Her father left the family early on and it was up to her strong mother and her older brothers to be the providers. Coleman was left to care for her younger sisters, sacrificing her ability to participate in school past the eighth grade. However, while she was in school, Coleman was an exemplary student. She excelled in math and was always curious. Her passion for learning about the world took her to new heights.
Excited by the possibilities in education, Coleman worked countless hours to save up enough money to attend college. She studied at Langston University for one year until she ran out of money. Undeterred by this setback, Coleman decided it was time for her to move forward. She moved to the bustling city of Chicago where she worked as a manicurist and lived with her brothers. A thrilling new passion for the aviation industry grew roots in Coleman as she heard of pilots returning from WWI. Fascinated by the heroic stories of a battlefield in the sky, Coleman was awakened by her calling to become a pilot.
The road to earning a pilot’s license as an African American woman in the early twentieth century was not a smooth one, to say the least. In fact, it was so difficult that Coleman was encouraged to seek her training in France which was believed to be accepting of all races and one of the most developed nations in the aviation industry. Robert Abbott, the publisher of a popular African American newspaper, helped finance Coleman’s adventure to France on her mission to become a pilot.
After much hard work and adequate funding, Coleman left for France in 1920. Her dreams of becoming a pilot were quickly approaching, marking a transformational time in her life. Not only did she successfully accomplish finishing her flight training in France, but she did so at the best aviation school that France had to offer. She stood out as a leader in academia and in aviation as she was awarded her international pilot’s license. This accomplishment alone opened many doors of opportunity for Coleman and showed how capable a determined woman is of achieving her dreams.
Coleman returned to the United States and amazed her fans in air shows. She was an incredible stunt pilot, twisting and turning in ways no one dreamed possible in the air. Her natural magnetic and charismatic personality, in addition to her hard work, made her one of the best air show pilots in the United States.
In a tragic plane accident in 1926, Coleman passed away. However, her legacy lives on in the dreams of aspiring women aviators around the world. Many women and girls of all races have been inspired by her breathtaking performances and uplifting story. No matter what challenges may tower over dreams, the fierce power of determination will always be greater. The power of labels is nothing compared to the power of the woman rising above them.
Eager for more on Bessie Coleman?
Check out this link:
“Coleman, Bessie.” National Aviation Hall of Fame, www.nationalaviation.org/our-enshrinees/coleman-bessie/.