Happy Birthday, Bessie Coleman! She would have turned 125 year old on Jan. 26, and the occasion was celebrated with the Internet’s greatest honor: a Google Doodle. Bessie is actually an incredibly important part of history to lean all about this amazing woman.
She was the first African-American woman to earn a pilot’s license.
The Google Doodle shows Bessie Coleman in a pair of aviator goggles and a biplane, and for good reason. After being born in Texas in 1892, she moved to Chicago in her 20s to work as a manicurist, according to CNN. Her brother’s tales of World War I sparked an interest in flying and on June 15, 1921, she became the first American woman of color to earn a pilot license.
She didn’t get her license in America.
Bessie’s path to the heavens wasn’t easy. No American flight schools admitted women or black people. After Robert S. Abbott, the founder and publisher of the Chicago Defender, advised her to study abroad, she moved to Paris, France to learn how to fly.
“I knew we had no aviators, neither men nor women, and I knew the race needed to be represented along this most important line,” she once said, according to Al Jazeera, “so I thought it my duty to risk my life to learn aviation and to encourage flying among men and women of our race, who are so far behind the white race in this modern study.”
Bessie was also part Native-American.
She was the tenth of thirteen children to Susan Coleman and her husband, George Coleman, was part Cherokee. So not only did she fly through the glass ceiling, she broke through not one but two color barriers! “The air is the only place free from prejudices,” she once said.
Her areal skills earned her a royal nickname.
Though she struggled to find barnstorming work, Bessie quickly became a daredevil sensation. She would dazzle crowds by performing tricks, even parachuting out her plane. Thus, she was called “Queen Bessie” or “Queen B.”
She died doing what she loved.
Bessie died when she was just 34 years on, on April 30, 1926. She was in Jacksonville Florida, preparing for a show when she took her ultimate flight in a Curtiss JN-4 airplane. Along with her mechanic and agent, William D. Willis, Bessie took off to survey the landscape. She chose not to wear her seatbelt during this trip as she planned to do a parachute jump the next day. Such a decision proved fatal, as the plane took an unexpected dive before spinning. Bessie was thrown out of the plane and she died on impact.
She had plans to open a flight school for future black pilots, a dream she wouldn’t live to see through. Still, her influence on history and her legacy as a trailblazer is undeniable. Happy Birthday, Bessie!
HollywoodLifers, what do you think about Bessie? Are you marveled at this American history icon?