IPR is featuring some of the many Black American pioneers and landmark events to celebrate Black History Month.
Born in Atlanta, Texas on January 26, 1892, Bessie Coleman was the first African American and Native American female pilot. Her mother, Susan Coleman, was an African American maid, and her father George Coleman was a sharecropper of mixed Native American and African American descent. Coleman attended the Colored Agricultural and Normal University (now Langston University) in Langston, Oklahoma but had to drop out after only one semester because she could not afford to attend.
At age 23, Coleman moved to Chicago to live with her brothers. She learned from her brother that women were able to become pilots in France, which was not yet possible in America. Coleman applied to many aviation schools was accepted at the Caudron Brothers’ School of Aviation in Le Crotoy, France. She received her international pilot’s license on June 15, 1921 from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.
In 1922, Coleman performed the first public flight by an African American woman. She toured the country giving flight lessons, performing in-flight shows, and she encouraged African Americans and women to learn how to fly. In February of 1923, Coleman survived her first major airplane accident in which her engine suddenly stopped working and she crashed. She was badly hurt in the accident and suffered a broken leg, a few cracked ribs, and cuts on her face but was able to fully heal from her injuries. This accident did not stop her from flying. She went back to performing dangerous air tricks in 1925. Coleman died in an accident on April 30, 1926.
National Women’s History Museum