Feature of the Week: Bessie Coleman, First Black Woman Aviator

Happy Black History Month Everyone! The month of February is nearing toward an end, but that doesn’t  mean it's too late to feature an African American of Excellence. This week I am doing something different and am featuring someone from African American History, Bessie Coleman, the first Black Woman Aviator and Pioneer of Women in the field of Aviation. I decided to feature Bessie because I occasionally fly out of town for vacation and to visit family, and during my last flight; I observed that I have yet to see a female pilot in the front of the aircraft. I have been on about 12-15 flights, and the pilot and co-pilot has always been men. I decided to do some research on female pilots. And In honor of Black History Month, I share with you the first black  female pilot, Introducing: Bessie Coleman.

Bessie Coleman was the first female pilot of African American descent and Native American descent. Bessie was  known as one of the best stunt-pilots in America, and was famous for performing tricks like flying upside down and making loops while flying a plane. Bessie even walked or hung on to the plane while it was still in flight. Most famously, Bessie was known for performing jumps out of planes using early parachutes. Bessie died in 1926 while preparing for a parachute jump. 

Bessie was born January 26, 1982 in Atlanta, Texas to a  black mother and a father of American Indian and black descent. Both of her parents were sharecroppers and when she was a toddler, her parents moved their family to Waxahachie, a small town thirty miles from Dallas. When Bessie was about 7 years old, her father left the family and moved to Oklahoma (then known as the Indian Territory). Bessie's mom and the rest of the family stayed in Waxahachie. Bessie and her siblings helped their mom pick cotton, and when she got older helped her mom wash clothes to make ends meet. 

To go to college, Bessie used her saved earnings from washing clothes to attend. She attended Langston University in Oklahoma, but only had enough to make it through one semester. She then  dropped out and went to live with one of her brothers in Chicago. 

While in Chicago, Bessie went to Beauty school and became a manicurist. She also became interested in flying after seeing seeing pilots make headlines and pictures of WWI airplanes appear regularly in magazines. Bessie applied to flight schools in the U.S, but was denied as all schools were for white men only. She later found that France accepted females,brown females at that, in their flights schools. The school applications were in french, so Bessie taught herself french and applied. 

In 1920 Bessie was accepted to France's most famous flight school- Ecole d'Aviation des Freres Cadron et Le Crotoy. After 7 months of training, she was declared to be a qualified Aviator. During that time, pilots made money from performing stunts and for teaching students how to fly. Bessie spent many of her years performing stunts and tricks and this is how she became well known. 

In 1926, Bessie was preparing for a parachute jump during a test drive, when her plane went into a nose-dive maneuver from 3000 feet. At 2000 feet , the aircraft suddenly flipped over and Bessie fell to her death. I acknowledge Bessie today for her fearlessness, bravery and adventurous life. Bessie was courageous, and did not allow life's challenges to stop her from seeking out what she wanted in life.

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Be Encouraged,