Bessie Coleman (1893-1926)
First African-American woman to get an international pilot’s license
Bessie Coleman’s older brothers had fought in World War I and came home and told her stories about flying and noted that in Paris, “even a woman could fly.” Because of segregation, she could not learn to fly in the U.S. so she determined she would go to France, and she began to save the money she earned from her job in a beauty parlor.
By 1921, Coleman saved enough money for the trip; she was the only woman in her aviation class. Her return to the U.S. was a front page story, but if Coleman had not taken matters into her own hands, that would have been the end of it. The only regular job in the U.S. that required pilots was flying mail planes, and the post office only hired white men.
Coleman realized she could continue to fly and make money doing it by barnstorming. Coleman embarked on a lecture circuit and combined it with demonstration flights for the public. Her goal was to set up a school where African-Americans could learn to fly. Coleman was testing a newly purchased but older plane in 1926; it crashed and she did not survive.