Home

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.