Elizabeth (Bessie) Coleman-January 26, 1892 – April 30, 1926
Bessie grew up poor on a farm in Texas. She was the tenth of thirteen children who helped her parents work the farm. Looking for a better life, she joined her brothers in Chicago and supported herself as a manicurist in a barber shop. The idea to become a pilot was sparked when she listened to her customers talk about flying military planes. It was her dream to become a flyer, but at that time no flying schools accepted black men OR any women. She had to find a way to learn to fly even if she was a woman and she was brown-skinned.
She worked hard and raised money to go to France to attend flying school there. She learned her lessons and practiced her flying skills to return to the USA with an International Pilots License becoming the first American to ever receive one.
Being the daredevil she was, Bessie took up barnstorming. She performed stunts in the air flying her bi-plane, a plane with two wings, in air shows becoming part of the aerobatics high above the ground. She looped through the sky, performed figure eights, and dived from high above pulling up just in time not to crash into the ground. She was a hit with the crowds, but performed only in locations which allowed black folks to attend. She became so popular she earned the nickname, Queen Bess.
Bessie's career was cut short when the plane she was practicing in for a performance crashed and claimed her life. The world mourned her passing, but celebrated her accomplishments as a courageous woman and an inspiration for African-Americans and all women in the aviation industry.