• Kimberley Guillemet

World Changer of the Month — June 2021: Bessie Coleman


Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman, was the first woman and the first person of African American descent ever to have an international pilot’s license. Born to a family of sharecroppers in Atlanta, Texas on January 26, 1892, she was of African American and Cherokee descent. As one of the world’s premiere civil aviators, she thrilled audiences around the country for several years in airshows and was billed The World’s Greatest Woman Flier. Aviator Coleman attended one term of college at Langston University, but had to drop out because she could not afford the tuition. She developed an early interest in flying, but no flight schools would train African Americans, Native Americans, or women in the United States during that time, so she worked as a manicurist and as a manager at a Chili Parlor to save money to go to flight school abroad. Ultimately, between the funds she had saved and support from private sponsors, she was able to go to France for flight school. She earned her pilot’s license from the world-renowned Fédération Aéronautique Internationale on June 15, 1921. Aviator Coleman became a high-profile pilot in notoriously dangerous air shows in the United States. She drew multicultural crowds and was popularly known as Queen Bess and Brave Bessie. Ever aware of the hardships she had faced in endeavoring to earn her pilot’s license, she developed a plan to start a flight training school for African American students in the United States. She died in a plane crash in 1926. Her pioneering role was an inspiration to early pilots all over the world, including Amelia Earhart. To learn more about Bessie Coleman, please visit: https://www.si.edu/newsdesk/snapshot/bessie-coleman-first-african-american-licensed-pilot and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bessie_Coleman. To view footage of her incredible journey, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wckEiKzCBqc.