Bessie Coleman (1892-1924)


Bessie Coleman, or “Brave Bessie,” was the first licensed African-American pilot. Coleman attended college in Oklahoma, but had to quit because of financial difficulties. She moved to Chicago and worked as a manicurist and successfully operated a chili parlor. However, Coleman's dream was to learn to fly. When no American school would accept African Americans, she traveled to France to attend Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, where she became the first licensed black pilot in the world. Flying army surplus aircraft left over from WWI, she earned her nickname “Brave Bessie” by performing daredevil stunts. While doing air shows she gave lectures urging young black students to become pilots. Coleman once refused to perform in Waxahachie, Texas, until black students were allowed to use the same entrance as white students. Coleman died in 1924 in an accident. She is buried in Lincoln Cemetery in Chicago.


Works Cited:

  • This article is excerpted from the NWHM Winter 2004 Newsletter
  • PHOTO: Early Aviators