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Bessie Coleman

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Bessie Coleman
Bessie Coleman, First African American Pilot - GPN-2004-00027.jpg
BornJanuary 26, 1892(1892-01-26)
DiedApril 30, 1926(1926-04-30) (aged 34)
Known forPioneer aviator

Elizabeth "Bessie" Coleman (January 26, 1892 – April 30, 1926) was the first female African American pilot ever to hold an international pilot license. She fought discrimination to follow her dream of becoming a pilot.

Early Life

Coleman was born in Texas in 1892. Her mother and father were African American. She had two brothers and a young sister. Her parents were sharecroppers. When Coleman was two, her family moved to Waxahachie, Texas where Bessie went to school. She loved reading and was very good at math. Her father hoped to get a job.

Coleman’s father was disturbed by the racial barriers in Texas. He believed that the family would be treated better if they moved to Indian Territory in Oklahoma.

Unable to convince his wife to accompany him, Coleman’s father left the family when she was nine. Around that time, her older brothers grew up and moved away. Coleman’s mother worked as a maid. Coleman helped take care of her younger sisters.

During the cotton harvest, everyone in the family worked in the fields to earn extra money. It was hot, boring work, and during the harvest, African American children could not go to school. Still, Coleman managed to finish all eight grades in the local school. Coleman decided that she wanted to go to college, so she saved her money. In about four years, she had enough money to begin college. A year later, she ran out of money.

At the age of 23, Coleman boarded a train and made the trip to Chicago. She moved in with her brothers and their wives. Coleman took class to learn to become a manicurist, and soon found a job at the White Sox Barber Shop on Chicago's Southside. But Coleman wanted to do something more with her life.


Her friend Robert Abbott told her that she could travel to France to fly. She got a new job managing a restaurant and saved her money. Robert Abbot and her friends helped her pay for the trip. In 1920, Coleman went to France on a ship. In 1921, Coleman became the first female African American pilot ever to hold an international pilot license.

In April 1926, Coleman was going to a show in Jacksonville that included a parachute jump. Coleman did not wear her seat belt because she needed to lean out of the plane to see a good place to land. The plane suddenly went into a spin. Coleman fell out of the plane and was killed. She is buried in Chicago's Lincoln Cemetery.

After her death, the U.S. Post Office issued a stamp in her honor. A Chicago street was named after her.


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