By Mandy Walsh of St. Luke Academy, Chicago
© 2007 Mandy Walsh
Bessie Coleman was the first African American woman to fly an airplane. Before Coleman's first flight, few women flew airplanes. The women who did were wealthy and Caucasian. Coleman always dreamed of flying. She took a stand against racism, segregation, and sexism to make her dream come true. Her bravery and determination showed the world that African Americans are equal, not just in the air, but in all places.
Coleman was born on January 20, 1926 in Atlanta, Texas to George and Susan Coleman. She was born into a family of thirteen children, and her father left the family when she was young. (Hart, ...view middle of the document...
(France did not have the racial barriers America did.) Coleman got angry and declared that one day she would fly. (Plantz, Bessie Coleman: First Black African American Pilot, pg. 38)
At the time, Chicago had three aviation schools but she could not get into an aviation program because she was African American and a woman. She realized she had to do something. "She wanted to do something to uplift her race. Black people (in the US) had not been introduced to aviation and that was going to be her contribution. (Gornstien, Ken. "No Flight of Fancy". Northeastern University Magazine, March 1991, pg. 19)
While working, Coleman met a man named Robert Abbott, the editor of The Chicago Defender, a newspaper that encouraged African Americans to follow their dreams. (Hart, Up in the Air, pg. 26) Coleman told him about her ambition to become a pilot. She thought that if she could break the racial barriers, she could not only advance her career, but help other African Americans as well. (Gornstien, Ken. "No Flight of Fancy". Northeastern University Magazine, March 1991, pg. 19.) Robert Abbott told Coleman to reach her goal she must go to France. Her family tried to discourage her, saying that aviation was a very dangerous profession, but Coleman just replied "I'm aware of the risks, but if they (France) can help me with my hopes and plans, I'll have no regrets." ("Bessie Coleman, Smithsonian Institution)
On November 20, 1920 she boarded the SS Emperor bound for France. When she arrived, she applied to two schools. One refused her because two women had just died in an airplane crash, (Plantz, Bessie Coleman: First Black Woman Pilot, pg. 43) but the second school, Ecole d' Aviation de Freres Caudron, admitted her.
Coleman loved learning to fly. She would fly in a French Neiuport Type Eighty-two plane, which was very flimsy and dangerous. This did not stop Coleman from wanting to learn more. (Plantz, Bessie Coleman: First Black Woman Pilot, pg. 45) Coleman even dared to fly the German Horsepower Benz Airplane. She was the first woman to do so. (Queen Bess to Try Air October 15". Chicago Defender, October 7, 1922, pg. 2)
For ten months Coleman walked nine miles every day to school, showing her determination to fly. (Plantz, Bessie Coleman: First Black Woman Pilot, pg. 45) She even witnessed a classmate die, but did not give up her dream of being a pilot. (Carr, Caroline. Interview with Mandy Walsh. March 4, 2006) Then, on June 15, 1921, she got her pilot's license. This meant Coleman and a Chinese woman were the only pilots in the world who were not Caucasian. ("Chicago Girl is a Full-Fledged Aviatrix Now". Chicago Defender, October 1, 1921, pg. 1) Coleman was excited that now everyone knew African Americans and women could be just as great as Caucasians and men! Coleman had known all of her life that she wanted to do something for the world, and now she knew that she had done it. (Plantz, Bessie Coleman: First Black Woman pilot, pg. 45)...