Black News and News Makers in History: Bessie Coleman

African American news from Pasadena - Black News and News Makers in HistoryBessie Coleman, faced with adversity, succeeded in achieving her life goal to become a pilot.  She was awarded her international pilot's license in 1921 in France after being rejected in the United States.

Bessie Coleman, born on January 26, 1892, in an Atlanta Texas one-room, dirt-floored cabin to parents who were children of slaves and both illiterate. Bessie was able to attend Langston University for one year until her savings were exhausted. She worked at various jobs until, at age 28, she realized her life goal: to become a pilot.

When no one was willing to teach her to fly, Robert Abbott, the publisher of the nation's largest African American weekly, the Chicago Defender, suggested she go to France, world leaders in aviation. Abbott sponsored her endeavors and she was awarded her international pilot's license on June 15, 1921.

The African American press followed her accomplishments, among them she founded an aviator's school unrestricted to race, performed in airplane shows, and appeared before audiences in churches, schools and theaters in order encourage the interest of African Americans in the new, expanding technology of flight. She was good at promotion and, with her intelligence, beauty, and speaking ability, the press soon dubbed her "Queen Bess." As she dazzled crowds with her stunts at air shows and was highly sought after for speaking engagements, she was able to finally earn enough money to open her aviation school.

At age 34, she left Orlando by train, headed for the Jacksonville Negro Welfare League to perform at their benefit exhibition. She was to parachute from her plane. Her pilot, William D. Wills, was flying her plane to Jacksonville. On the way, he was forced to make several landings due poor maintenance. During the trial flight, she sat in the other cockpit to survey the area over which she was to fly and parachute jump the next day. Her seat belt was unattached because she had to lean out over the edge of the plane while picking the best sites for her program. At a speed of 110 mph, at an altitude of 1,500 feet, the plane suddenly dived and flipped, throwing her out of the cockpit. Within moments, the plane crashed and both were killed. Her memorials, held in Jacksonville, Orlando, and Chicago, were attended by thousands. She has finally become recognized as a hero of early aviation.

Compiled from various Internet resources.


Get our news by email!

Please be sure to add pasadenajournal.com to your approved senders list before subscribing! Learn More
Unsubscribe any time

Search the Journal


Some sections of our site are for registered and/or paid subscribers only. Please login or create an account.

To post Comments, submit events or access Article Archives you must be a registered member:


Missing Something?

Did you know you can get the Pasadena Journal weekly print publication for more news and information?


Black News and News Makers in History

4/17/1990: August Wilson, playwright, wins second Pulitzer Prize for drama with "The Piano Lesson."

4/18/1955: Bill Russell named Boston Celtics coach, first African American to coach established professional athletics team.

4/18/1976: Percy Julian, inventor of over 138 chemical patents & pioneer synthesizer of cortisone drugs, dies.

4/19/1947: Jackie Robinson becomes first African American major league baseball player.

4/19/1775: Minutemen, of both black and white ethnicity, fought British soldiers at Lexington, Concord, & Bunker Hill.

4/19/1887: Elijah J McCoy, inventor, patents lubricant attachment.

4/19/1892: Robert Coates, inventor, patents overboot for horses.

4/20/1853: Harriet Tubman, fugitive slave, freedom fighter & spy, starts Underground Railroad. Read More.

4/20/1899: Edward ("Duke") Kennedy Ellington, entertainer, born.

4/21/2003: Nina Simone, singer, dies in Paris France.

4/22/1596: First recorded slave revolt occurs in Stono, SC.

4/22/1970: Yale University students protest in support of Black Panthers.

4/22/1978: Bob Marley, singer, held famous "One Love" concert.

4/23/1856: Granville T. Woods, prolific inventor, born.

4/23/1872: Charlotte E. Ray becomes first female African American attorney. Read More.

4/23/1913: National Urban League founded.