As the very first woman of African American and Native American heritage to earn her pilot’s licence in the United States, Bessie Coleman flew high in the sky. She earned several nicknames like “Brave Bessie,” “Queen Bess,” as well as “The Only Race Aviatrix in the World” for her amazing flying stunts. Coleman’s objective was to inspire women and African Americans to pursue their dreams, and she achieved it. Despite her career being shortened by a terrible plane crash, her life and legacy go on to inspire people worldwide.

Her Early Life

Bessie was born on 26 January 1892, in Atlanta, Texas. She was the tenth child of sharecroppers who picked cotton for a landowner. Growing up, she attended segregated schools in Waxahachie, Texas, but had to drop out of Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University due to financial difficulties. In 1915, she moved to Chicago and worked as a manicurist in a barber shop. Her brother John’s stories of women’s freedom in Europe during World War I inspired her to pursue her new dream of becoming a pilot.

Despite facing discrimination from U.S. flight schools owing to her gender and race, Coleman persisted and saved up enough money to attend flight school. However, she was repeatedly rejected because of her identity until Robert Abbott, publisher of the Chicago Defender, suggested she try schools in France. Coleman learned French, travelled to France, and enrolled in the Cauldron Brothers’ School of Aviation in Le Crotoy. In 1921, within a year of enrolling, she earned her international pilot’s licence. She later went on to study stunt flying across Europe.

Coming Back To America

After receiving her international pilot’s licence that put her in good company, Bessie returned to New York City and was hailed as “a full-fledged aviatrix, said to be the first of her race.” She began performing aerial stunts and wowed audiences with her wing-walking and parachute jumps. Coleman’s acts were widely covered in the press.

The Accident Which Claimed Her Life

On 30 April 1926, Coleman was in Jacksonville, Florida, ready to perform in an airshow using a new Curtiss biplane, despite warnings from her loved ones about its safety. Unlike playing blackjack online it seemed to be a huge risk.

While scouting for a parachute jump the next day, she was in the plane with her seatbelt unfastened, and the plane spun out of control, throwing her from the plane from about 500 feet in the air, killing her instantly upon impact. The plane’s mechanic and publicity agent, William Wills, also couldn’t regain control and died on impact. An investigation revealed that a wrench had jammed the gearbox, causing the accident.

Coleman’s funeral was attended by over 5 000 mourners in Jacksonville, followed by thousands more at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Orlando, Florida. Her final resting place was in the Lincoln Cemetery in Chicago, where over 10 000 people paid their respects.

Lieutenant William J Powell, who served in an all-black unit during World War I, wrote in his 1934 book, “Black Wings,” “Because of Bessie Coleman, we have overcome that which was much worse than a racial barrier. We have conquered the barriers within ourselves and dared to dream.”

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