Born January 26, 1892, the first African-American and first Native-American female licensed pilot, Bessie Coleman, gained interest in aviation following the stories she heard and listened to about World War I pilots.
And though she was determined to succeed in the field of aviation, two things were then against her; her race and her gender. This made it difficult for her to find any school or individual in the U.S. willing to teach her how to fly. As a result, Coleman went to France upon the advice of Robert Abbott, the publisher of the then-largest African American newspaper, the Chicago Defender, where she earned her license. It just took Coleman – who was the only Black student – seven months to learn how to fly at the school.
Upon returning to the United States, she realized that she was almost a celebrity as the African-American press had already begun writing about her. She decided to ride on that fame to launch a one-woman airshow as a stunt pilot but she needed more training for that. Still not finding any training facility willing to help her in the U.S., Coleman returned to Europe and acquired some training in Germany, the Netherlands as well as France.
With new skills, Coleman returned to the U.S. in 1922 and began performing aerial acrobatics stunts, parachuting, diving and others across the U.S. to the joy of teeming crowds. She also lectured about flying, mainly to Black people who did not know much about aviation.
Though Coleman had a short flying career as a result of her unfortunate death in a plane crash at the age of 34, her brief period in aviation empowered many young African Americans to enter the field.
To celebrate her legacy, Face2Face Africa shares with you five of her inspirational quotes: