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Elizabeth "Bessie" Coleman

Elizabeth "Bessie" Coleman

Elizabeth "Bessie" Coleman January 26, 1892 – April 30 1926

Elizabeth "Bessie" Coleman had a difficult (but not uncommon) childhood, growing up in Texas. Soon after her twenty-third birthday, Coleman moved away from the South and moved in with two of her brothers in Chicago. It was at this point in her life that Coleman realized her destiny was to fly among the clouds. Listening to the stories of World War I veterans motivated Coleman’s desire to fly for her country. But that posed a problem for the dreamer: women, especially black women had no chance of earning a pilot’s license in the United States.

Coleman agreed to travel to France for training and licensure. This proved to be one of the best decisions of her life. In just seven months at Caudron Brother's School of Aviation, Coleman had earned her international pilot’s license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, making Coleman the first African-American female pilot, ever!

Coleman did not grow complacent with her success. If anything, it increased the vigilance with which she addressed issues of racial inequity in the profession. She often encouraged groups of young persons of color to pursue work in aeronautics. This aviation pioneer died far too young! A mid-air accident that took place during an aerial stunt show rehearsal sent Coleman’s plane plummeting. 

Coleman’s dream of earning a pilot’s license and flying in the U.S. were realized. She will forever be remembered as the first African-American female pilot. But more importantly, she is likely directly responsible for hundreds of people of color to enter a profession they never before thought possible. 

 
John Harold Johnson

John Harold Johnson

Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.