Black History Month: Meet the first black woman to become a licensed pilot

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PARIS — Nearly everyone has heard about Amelia Earhart, but not as many are familiar with Bessie Coleman–the first African American woman to become a licensed pilot.

Coleman was born in Atlanta, Texas in 1892. When she was 23 years old she moved to Chicago to escape poverty and discrimination and seek out new opportunities. Coleman, however, found things in Chicago were much the same as in Texas. In 1920, after hearing the wild stories of flying aces from soldiers returning from World War One, Coleman decided to move to France and study flying herself, thanks to financial support from Robert Abbott, one of the first African American millionaires.

Coleman obtained her license and returned to America to fanfare and media interest. Over the next five years she performed at air shows across the country, showing off her spectacular stunts and refusing to perform at shows where blacks were not admitted.

Coleman died in a crash in 1926, and civil rights advocate Ida B. Wells presided over her funeral. The Dallas Express wrote, “There is reason to believe the general public did not completely sense the size of her contribution to the achievements of the race as such.”

 

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