Although she faced heavy discrimination her entire life, Bessie Coleman fought to pursue her flying career. She became the first woman of African American descent to achieve a pilot’s license, and she earned an international pilot’s license in 1921. Mostly known for her air shows, Coleman also served as inspiration for many people of color who aspired to be pilots.
Born into a family of sharecroppers, Coleman spent her early days in the cotton fields with exception of attending a small segregated school and a stint at Langston University. Despite a difficult childhood, she moved to Chicago at age 24 where she developed an interest in aviation. Flight schools of the time admitted neither people of color or women, so Coleman saved her money and moved to France where she studied to become a pilot.
After receiving her pilot’s license, Coleman pursued a career as a stunt flier in order to make a living. Known as “Queen Bess”, she was popular among all audiences for her flamboyant and opportunistic style. Coleman traveled around the Untied States, performing many dangerous tricks, and even though she faced criticism, she continued to pursue her dream of flying and of opening an aviation school for African Americans. Sadly, she died in a tragic airplane accident at 34 before she could establish a school.
Even with her early death, Bessie Coleman inspired African American aviators for generations to come. By refusing to allow discrimination to hold her back, she influenced many young people of color to follow their dreams. In a highly discriminated era, Coleman reached new heights for African American women.