Previous page | After studying with French and German pilots, she gained her international pilot's license, becoming the first black woman in the world to do so. Returning to Chicago as a bona fide aviatrix, she embarked on a career of exhibition flying. Her first show was at Chicago's Checkerboard Field, where she dazzled the crowd with her gravity-defying aerial stunts and her flair for showmanship.
Touring the country as a barnstorming pilot, with the proviso that her audiences were not segregated, she was an inspiration for many young African Americans, who now viewed a career in aviation as a possibility. She lectured at schools, churches and recreational facilities in the African American community, encouraging her people to enter the aviation field. Her dream was to launch her own flying school for African Americans but it was tragically unrealized.
On April 30, 1926, Coleman died in an airplane crash in Jacksonville, Florida. Not being able to acquire a plane by any means in Florida, Coleman had her mechanic, William Wills of Dallas, Texas, fly a plane to her. During a test flight, Wills was at the controls when a wrench got caught in the gearbox. Coleman was not wearing a seat belt at the time and plummeted to her death.
While not fully recognized for the substantial contribution she made to the race, her pioneering achievements opened the door for many women and African Americans to pursue aviation as a profession. A group of African American women pilots have established the Bessie Coleman Aviators Club , open to all women pilots. Every year, on the anniversary of her death, members of the club, together with pilots from the Chicago American Pilots Association and the Negro Airmen International, fly low and drop flowers on her grave.
African-American Aviators, Stanley P. Jones & L. Octavia Tripp, Capstone Press, 1998.
Bessie Coleman: First Black Woman Pilot, Connie Plantz, Enslow Publishers Inc., 2001.
Black Eagles: African Americans in Aviation, Jim Haskins, Scholastic Trade, 1995.
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Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, Darlene Hine, Elsa Barkley Brown and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn (eds.), Indiana University Press, 1994.
Book of Black Heroes: Great Women in the Struggle, Toyomi Igus (ed.), Just Us Books, 1991.
Queen Bess: Daredevil Aviator, Doris L. Rich, Smithsonian Instution Press, 1995.
Search for 'Bessie Coleman' on Amazon.com or Amazon.ca.
ALLSTAR Learning Laboratory's African American Astronauts and Astronaut Candidates
Hart's Family Stories Become American History
International Black Aerospace Foundation
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum's Black Wings: African American Pioneer Aviators
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