Bessie Coleman was the first African American and first Native
American woman pilot. She was also the first African American to earn an
international pilot’s license.
Coleman was born on January 26, 1892 in Atlanta, Texas during a time
of overt racism and segregation laws. After being refused admission into
every U.S. flying school she approached, Coleman learned French. She
traveled to Paris in 1920 to attend the well-known Caudron Brothers’
School of Aviation in Le Crotoy, France. She was the only student of
color in her class.
On June 15, 1921, Coleman received her international pilot’s license
from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. She returned to the
U.S. and performed in her first airshow in September 1922. She became
known for “loop-the-loops” and making a figure 8.
Coleman used her growing fame to tour the country, giving flight
lessons, performing in shows, and encouraging African Americans and
women to learn how to fly. She also made a point of refusing to speak or
perform anywhere that segregated or discriminated against African
Bessie Coleman died on April 30, 1926 as a passenger in a practice
flight for a celebration in Jacksonville, Florida. Her flying career,
although brief, inspires many young African Americans to pursue the
field of aviation. Her legacy continues through the establishment of
aviation clubs and tributes, including the 1995 U.S. postal stamp issued
in her honor.