Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman, 1892 –1926

Bessie Coleman, 2021, Acrylic on Canvas, 11 x 14 in.

Bessie Coleman was an early American civil aviator. She was the first African-American woman and first Native American woman to hold a pilot license.  She earned her license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale on June 15, 1921, and was the first Black person to earn an international pilot’s license.

Born to a family of sharecroppers in Texas, Coleman worked in the cotton fields at a young age while also studying in a small segregated school. She attended one term of college at Langston University. Coleman developed an early interest in flying, but African-Americans, Native Americans, and women had no flight training opportunities in the United States, so she saved and obtained sponsorships to go to France for flight school.

Coleman died in a plane crash in 1926. While there was little mention in most media, news of her death was widely carried in the African-American press. Ten thousand mourners attended her ceremonies in Chicago, which were led by activist Ida B. Wells.

Links to additional information:

National Women’s History Museum

New York Times (part of the Overlooked Obituaries)