GXB15074 Bessie Coleman by Gregory Rudd © Wind River Studios

Believing that “the air is the only place free from prejudices,” Bessie Coleman steadfastly pursued her dream of becoming a pilot. She was born on January 26, 1892, in a one-room, dirt-floored cabin in Atlanta, Texas. Coleman’s education was often interrupted when she was taken from the classroom and sent to the cotton fields to work with her family. Determined to “amount to something,” the ambitious young woman worked as a laundress, saving her wages to attend Langston University in Oklahoma. After one year, however, Coleman’s funds were exhausted and she left school, eventually moving to Chicago. There she was befriended by Robert Abbot, publisher of the Chicago Defender, the largest African-American newspaper in the country. When she was unable to find a flying instructor willing to train a young black woman, she was advised by Abbot to seek flying lessons in France where he believed her race wouldn’t be a hindrance. Thus on June 15, 1921, she received her license from the F.A.I. (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale). In order to make herself more marketable, Coleman later expanded her repertoire by learning to perform aerial acrobatics. Driven by another goal, to open a school for black aviation students, she took speaking engagements and performed exhibition flights throughout America. On April 30, 1926, while preparing for just such a performance, she was killed when the plane in which she was riding flipped and threw her from its open cockpit.

Image and Text © Wind River Studios