Bessie Coleman – Soaring Beyond Barriers

Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman was born in 1892 in Atlanta, Georgia. Bessie was no exception to the treatment meted out to people of color in America, back in the day. She faced discrimination on the basis of color, race and gender in the early 1900s but she was unrelenting and her persistence paid out handsomely. Coleman’s determination allowed her to become the first African American and Native American women to earn a pilot’s license. She earned her license on June 15, 1921, from The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.

This groundbreaking achievement not only broke barriers in aviation but also ignited a spark of hope and possibility for countless Black Americans yearning to reach new heights.  Her legacy continues to inspire generations to chase their dreams, no matter the obstacles.

Early life and Inspiration

Bessie Coleman’s story begins in the heart of Texas, where she was one in a family of 13 children. Her mother was a domestic servant for a white family and her father worked as a day laborer. Her father later moved to Oklahoma without the rest of the family, hoping for better job opportunities. Later her brother moved to Chicago to search for better jobs as well and following in her brother’s footsteps Bessie joined her brother in 1916 and trained to become a beautician. In that same year she won a contest that declared her the best manicurist in Black Chicago.

While specifics about her early exposure to airplanes remain elusive, it’s evident that the concept of flight captured her imagination. Perhaps it was a news article about the Wright Brothers’ groundbreaking achievement, or maybe a glimpse of a hot air balloon drifting across the vast sky that lured her to a passion for flying. Whatever the source of inspiration, the seed of a dream was planted in Bessie’s heart. However, it was through her valiant attempts for acceptance in that arena that she met her biggest obstacles.

The Path to Licensure

Bessie Coleman’s dream of flight collided head-on with the harsh realities of racial prejudice and sexism in the early 1900s. No flight school in the United States would dare train a Black woman. This blatant discrimination wouldn’t deter Bessie, however.

In a way, her unwavering determination to fly became her own personally stamped Bessie Coleman Autobiography. While she never penned a literal life story, her relentless pursuit of this seemingly impossible dream became a powerful yet hypothetical narrative in itself.

She applied to a number of flight schools in the United States, but they denied her entry because of their biases about her race and gender. With countless refusals in hand, she confided in Robert S. Abbott., the powerful founder, editor, and publisher of The Chicago Defender, the most widely circulated Black newspaper in the country back then. Abbot recognized Coleman’s commitment and a great news story if she was successful. Abbott advised her to apply to a flight school in France.

Bessie Coleman and Black History Takes Flight

When African American woman Bessie Coleman got her pilot’s license in 1921 it became a landmark achievement in advancing equal opportunity for Black Americans with hopes of getting into aviation.

Her story contributed largely to the emergence of thousands of black pilots and the break with gender norms of the society. As she did not receive any type of reward throughout her life, her legacy lives on in the countless minds of people she continues to inspire today.

A Life in the Sky

Bessie Coleman’s ambition soared far beyond simply obtaining a pilot’s license. She craved a way to turn her passion into a platform and a pathway for others. This drive led her to the world of barnstorming.

Barnstorming was a popular exhibition circuit in the early days of aviation. Daring pilots would travel from town to town, putting on air shows filled with amazing maneuvers, loops, dives, and wing-walking (standing on the wing of a plane mid-flight). While some saw it as a reckless pursuit, for Bessie Coleman, it was a strategic opportunity.

Queen Bess Takes Center Stage

Bessie Coleman quickly gained a reputation for being part of the barnstorming activities in this period. Given the name; Queen Bess, she was in a position to be arrogant with how she flew or handle the aircraft.  Readers of newspapers followed her actions, impressed by the stunts she pulls off such as loops and daredevil dives.

It did not matter that she was Black in a predominantly white arena, she had a talent and charm that won fans over. Everyone, including natives from different regions, came to watch her soar, and her performance put an end to any criticism of her capability.

A Legacy That Soars On

Bessie Coleman’s life came to an end in 1926 after a plane accident. Despite this short-lived life, she existed as an icon among aviators and serves as a beacon for encouragement of future generations wishing to pursue their dream or striving to manifest their best self. She broke down barriers of prejudice and became an example of success despite the closed doors and oppression she encountered.

Beyond the Cockpit

Bessie Coleman has left a legacy in will power, not just for ambitions of flying but par for the course for burgeoning spirits seeking to find opportunities to allow for manifestation of their highest calling. She has blazed a trail left with indelible reminders that resilient spirits of courage, perseverance and hope can find a way of overcoming all obstacles leading to expansion and new frontiers.

Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman’s reminders that the sky is the limit are set on repeat.

Marlene Daley
Marlene Daley
Founder & Producer of KotchMagazine,com, Belovedones.Love and Kotch.Media



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