January 26, 2017
Bessie Coleman’s 125th Birthday
Bessie Coleman didn’t just chase her dreams – she soared after them.
Born in Texas to a family of 13 children, Coleman walked four miles each day to her segregated, one-room school. She was a proficient reader and excelled in math, and managed to balance her studies while helping her parents harvest cotton. Even from an early age, she had her sights set on something big.
At age 23, Coleman moved to Chicago where she worked two jobs in an effort to save enough money to enroll in aviation school. After working for five years, she moved to Paris to study, as no school in America would admit her due to her race and gender. Just a year later, Coleman became the first female pilot of African-American and Native American descent, and the first to earn an international aviation license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.
In order to earn a living, Coleman made a plan to become a stunt pilot and perform for paying audiences. However, she was again denied enrollment in a stunt training program in the US, and in 1922, traveled to Europe where she completed her training in France and Germany.
Returning to the US, Coleman excelled at exhibition flying, performing complex stunts in flight for packed audiences. It was during this time that she acquired the nickname “Queen Bessie.” She was an adept, daring, and beloved pilot, until her untimely death at the age of 34.
Although Coleman didn’t live to fulfill her ultimate dream of starting an aviation school to train people of color, she inspired a generation. As Lieutenant William J. Powell writes, "Because of Bessie Coleman, we have overcome that which was worse than racial barriers. We have overcome the barriers within ourselves and dared to dream.”
Today’s Doodle honors Coleman on what would be her 125th birthday.