Woman Making History #17: Bessie Coleman

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bessiecoleman.jpgStill sick...forgive me...

Bessie Coleman was born in 1892 to a large Texas family. Her father left the family when Coleman was young, and the remainder of her childhood was difficult. She was unable to attend school much beyond the eighth grade due to financial difficulties. At the age of twenty-three, she moved to Chicago to stay with her brother and look for work.

Coleman worked as a beautician in Chicago for several years before, in 1919, she went to France to attend aviation school (there were no opportunities for a black woman to learn to fly in the United States). She was funded by sponsors and her own savings.

In 1921, she became the first African-American to earn an aviation license. She returned to the U.S. to surprising press coverage. Knowing she'd need public following to make flying pay, she created an exciting image, including dressing in military uniform. She flew in air shows and gave lectures for several years, often refusing to perform unless audiences were desegregated.

In April 1926, Bessie Coleman died in a flying accident before an aviation show in Jacksonville, Florida.



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