First African American Licensed Pilot

Elizabeth (Bessie) Coleman (January 26, 1896 – April 30, 1926), also known as “Queen Bess”, was the first licensed African American pilot. Bessie was born in Atlanta, Texas the tenth child of thirteen children. Gifted in math, Bessie walked four miles to a one-room school in Waxahachie and at the age of eight she became the family bookkeeper. She continued her education by graduating from high and a term at the Colored Agricultural University. At the university she learned of the Wright Brothers and Harriet Quimby, a woman pilot.

Bessie’s brother, a World War I veteran, told her of the women in France flying airplanes and Bessie was inspired to become a pilot. With help from the founder of the Chicago Defender, she attended a language school and an aviation school in France. France did not have racial discrimination and African Americans found opportunities there that were unavailable in the U.S.  There Bessie found the aviation class enrolled with men and women of all nationalities.  Bessie was the first African American to attend and receive a pilot’s license.

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