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The Hilltop


Happy Birthday Bessie Coleman: A Tribute to One of the Greats

By Imara Bright-Johnson, Contributing Writer
Posted 4:20 PM EST, Thurs., Jan. 26, 2017

As the first African-American woman to obtain a pilot’s license, Bessie Coleman made great strides with her outstanding flying skills. Although heavily doubted, Coleman continued to persevere and accomplish her goals despite the racial and gender discrimination she encountered. Bessie Coleman was a true pioneer, and on her birthday, January 26, has left an impact in history.

Bessie Coleman was born in 1892 in Atlanta, Texas as the 10th child in a family of 13. When Coleman was nine, her father, George Coleman, left the family behind for Oklahoma to find better opportunities.

Three years later, Bessie Coleman was accepted in the Missionary Baptist Church, a one room school that was a four mile journey on foot every day. She was very intelligent and completed each grade level, but she still wanted to do more with her life.

At 23, Coleman moved to Chicago to live with one of her brothers. At that time, Coleman was denied the right to apply for a pilot license in the United States, so she decided to take a different route.

In 1920, after teaching herself French, Coleman left for France to achieve her goal of becoming a pilot. A year later, Coleman received her pilot license from Federation Aeronautique Internationale. She soon returned to the United States to continue in the pursuit of making a career from piloting. Whenever Coleman flew, she performed acrobatic exhibition flying in front of countless audiences, and never failed to leave the crowd satisfied.

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Coleman attracted publicity due to her race and gender, and was even able to dabble in other professions such as theater and giving lectures. Alongside all of her work, Coleman also opened a beauty shop and raised the funds to purchase her own airplane.

In 1926, when Coleman arrived in Jacksonville to test her plane, it malfunctioned and the mechanic lost control. Coleman fell hundreds of feet to her death.

Coleman has a road named in her honor, a stamp to commemorate her memory and the Bessie Coleman Aviators Club established by women pilots in 1977.

Bessie Coleman is an American legend. She negated stereotypes and changed the world of flying forever. Coleman paved the way for generations to follow; and on her birthday, her life and lasting legacy is commemorated.


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