Born on This Day in 1892: Pioneering Aviator Bessie Coleman (VIDEO)

Bessie Coleman

Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman was an American civil aviator. She was the first female pilot of African American descent and the first person of African-American descent to hold an international pilot license.  Coleman was born in Atlanta,Texas, the tenth of thirteen children to sharecroppers George, who was part Cherokee, and Susan Coleman.

In 1915, at the age of 23, she moved to Chicago, Illinois, where she lived with her brothers and she worked at the White Sox Barber Shop as a manicurist, where she heard stories from pilots returning home from World War I about flying during the war. She could not gain admission to American flight schools because she was black and a woman. No black U.S. aviator would train her either. Robert S. Abbott, founder and publisher of the Chicago Defender, encouraged her to study abroad.

Coleman raised money, studied French, and then traveled to Paris on November 20, 1920.  She learned to fly in a Nieuport Type 82 biplane, with “a steering system that consisted of a vertical stick the thickness of a baseball bat in front of the pilot and a rudder bar under the pilot’s feet.”  On June 15, 1921, Coleman became not only the first African-American woman to earn an international aviation license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, and the first American of any gender or ethnicity to do so, but the first African-American woman to earn an aviation pilot’s license. Determined to polish her skills, Coleman spent the next two months taking lessons from a French ace pilot near Paris, and in September 1921 sailed for New York. She became a media sensation when she returned to the United States.

To learn more about Coleman’s life and career, click here or watch the Smithsonian Channel video above.

article via wikipedia.com

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