INFLUENTIAL

Figures

August Historical Figure:
Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman, otherwise known as 'Queen Bess', is renowned for her daring aviation stunts and was the first Black and first Native American woman to become a licensed pilot at the age of 29. 

Bessie was born on January 26th, 1892, and grew up with her mother and twelve siblings in Atlanta, Texas. To help make ends meet, Bessie and the other children would pick cotton and help their mother wash laundry every year. By the age of 18, Bessie attended Langston University - known then as the Colored Agricultural and Normal University - in Langston, Oklahoma. After her first semester, she dropped out because she could no longer afford to attend.

 

At the age of 23, Bessie moved to Chicago to live with her brothers and met her mentor, Robert Abbott, a famous newspaper publisher. At this time, Bessie began to apply to aviation schools across the country. She was denied admission to American Aviation schools due to her race and gender, but learned from her brothers who were stationed in France during World War I that women in France could acquire pilot licenses. Recognizing the opportunity (and encouraged by her mentor), Bessie attended night classes to learn French and began applying to aviation schools in France.

The Caudron Brothers' School of Aviation in Le Crotoy, France accepted Bessie. She earned her international pilot's license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale in 1921.


"I knew the Race needed to be represented along this most important line, so I thought it my duty to risk my life to learn aviation." - Bessie Coleman

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