Happy Birthday to Bessie Coleman, Black America’s First Internationally-Licensed Female Pilot

0 Posted by - January 26, 2021 - Birthdays

Photo credits: National Air and Space Museum via WikiCommons

Bessie Coleman (pictured), born Jan. 26, 1892, was a renowned aviator who was the first African-American woman to become a pilot, as well as the first to hold an international pilot’s license. 

When she turned 18, Coleman took her savings and enrolled in the Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University (now called Langston University). She completed one term before her money ran out. A lack of funding forced Coleman to return home. In 1915, she moved to Chicago and worked as a manicurist.

While working in that position, she began listening to stories from pilots who had flown in World War I.

Determined to become a pilot, she was encouraged by Robert S. Abbott, founder and publisher of the Chicago Defender to study aviation abroad. Coleman received financial backing for her studies from a banker and the Defender. She eventually traveled to Paris, where she became the first African-American woman to obtain an international aviation license.

Coleman was also the first African-American woman in the world to earn an aviation pilot’s license.

She later traveled to the Netherlands and Germany to get additional training before returning to the United States. Upon returning to her home country, Coleman started stunt flying and was billed as “the world’s greatest woman flier.” She developed a reputation as a skilled and daring pilot, who would stop at nothing to complete a difficult stunt (Hicks, 2013).

Coleman died in 1926 after a mechanical malfunction caused her aircraft to crash at the age of 34.

Reference: Hicks, J. (2013, January 26) This Day in Black History: Jan. 26, 1892. Retrieved from https://www.bet.com/news/national/2013/01/26/this-day-in-black-history-jan-26-1892.html

*BlackThen.com writer/historian Victor Trammell edited and contributed to this report.

1 Comment

  • Andrew Lutze January 27, 2021 - 2:30 am

    SO cool! There needs to be a movie made about this life!