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Monday, February 25, 2008

Bessie Coleman 01/26/1892-04/30/1926


Born in Atlanta, Texas, on January 26, 1892 Bessie Coleman took an arduous path to becoming the world's first licensed African-American pilot. Her journey started when she moved early in her life with her family to Waxahachie, Texas. She lived within her Father's boundaries of a sharecropper's life. Growing up in Waxahachie she helped around the house and walked 4 miles to school. It was an everyday life in the Jim Crow South. Suddenly in 1901 her Father, George Coleman, left the family and moved to Oklahoma. He did try to convince his family to come with him but they would not. Soon after, her brothers also went there own ways and left their Mother, Susan, to raise 4 daughters on her own. "Susan found work as a cook/housekeeper for Mr. And Mrs. Elwin Jones." Bessie soon started taking care of the Coleman household near Mustang Creek. At the age of twelve she was accepted to the Missionary Baptist Church. Though all activities were interrupted during cotton pick'n season she eventually saved her money working as a laundress and attended Colored Agricultural and Normal University in Langston, Oklahoma. After one year she ran out of money. Eventually she moved to Chicago with her brother Walter at the age of 23. Her brothers John and Walter had served in WWI. John use to tell Bessie about the French women pilots. This got her inspiration going. She eventually applied went to France and obtained a flying license. On June 15, 1921 became the first African-American licensed pilot. She returned to America soon after but returned to France for advanced training. She returned again to the US an expert pilot.

"Her first appearance was in an air show on September 3, 1922 at Curtiss Field near New York City." "On June 19, 1925, Bessie made her flying debut in Texas at a Houston auto racetrack renamed Houston Aerial Transport Field in honor of the occasion."


She performed shows in San Antonio, Richmond, Waxahachie, Wharton,and Dallas. She always requested that the audience be integrated. On the occasion she performed in Waxahachie she had disappointingly found that Jim Crow still ruled in Waxahachie which it would until the late 60's. She had requested that the everyone was to enter the same gates. To her disappointment when she flew over in her Curtis JN-4D she saw a chain separating the blacks and whites after the gates. At that moment she probably understood a little better why her Father had left Waxahachie.

"At the end of April in 1926, Bessie's Jenny arrived in Jacksonville. On the evening of April 30th, she and her mechanic took the plane up for a test flight. Once aloft, the plane malfunctioned and the mechanic, who was piloting the plane from the front seat, lost control of the plane. Bessie fell from the open cockpit several hundred feet to her death."


10,000 people filed passed her coffin. She's had streets,a day, Bessie Coleman Aero Club(An African American flying school) and a US Stamp named in her honor and Legend.

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