It’s been a while since I’ve written about an amazing lady in history, so I thought I’d fix that today! Our wonderful woman was a daredevil who pushed boundaries and didn’t let racism or sexism get in her way! Today’s BAMF is Bessie Coleman!
Bessie Coleman was born on January 26, 1892–the tenth of thirteen children–in Atlanta, TX. When Bessie was a young child, she would walk to school everyday (four miles!). Her school was a small, one-room, segregated schoolhouse. Bessie excelled in reading and math. When she was older, she saved up her money and enrolled at Langston University in Langston, OK. Sadly, she was only able to finish one year because she ran out of money.
When she was 23, Bessie moved to Chicago and lived with three of her brothers. She made ends meet by working as a manicurist. Knowing she was meant for more, Bessie took a second job to pay for flying lessons. Because American flight schools didn’t allow blacks or women, she was encouraged by a friend to study abroad. So, with her friend helping her financially, she left the U.S. for France.
On June 15, 1921, Bessie became the first African American woman to earn her pilots license! When she came back to America, she was a media sensation. Bessie was an extrordinary pilot and knew how to keep an audience’s attention. She was an amazing daredevil, performing such tricks as figure eights, loops, and near-ground dips which kept air show crowds in awe.
Because of her popularity, Bessie was offered a role in the movie Shadow and Sunshine. She was excited to be a part of a major motion picture and hoped it would break barriers for women and people of color. However, she soon found out that her character was going to be portrayed in tattered clothes, carrying a pack over her shoulder. She walked off the movie set, refusing to perpetuate the derogatory image that Hollywood seemed so keen on to portray blacks in America.
Bessie knew where her destiny lie, in the clouds. She’s quoted as saying, “The air is the only place free from prejudices. I knew we had no aviators, neither men nor women, and I knew the Race needed to be represented along this most important line, so I thought it my duty to risk my life to learn aviation. . .”
Sadly, Bessie’s avionic dreams came to a halt on April 30, 1926. On her way to an air show, Bessie was in her Curtiss JN-4 aircraft with her co-pilot. Her plane had been worked on by a mechanic earlier in the day who said that he had to make three forced landings because of faulty maintenance from the previous owner. Undeterred, Bessie wanted to take her plane to the show. She did not have her seatbelt on while in the plane, as she needed to look over the co-pilot’s shoulder for his readings. As she did this, the plane took a sudden nose dive, spinning. Bessie was thrown from her aircraft and fell 2,000 feet to her death. Later, a wrench had been found inside the engine, accidentally left by the mechanic. She was just 34.
Her life was short, but her legacy is huge. Bessie broke down barriers of race and gender. Bessie Coleman, you are an inspiration to us all!