DREAM BIG Little Leader: Who was Bessie Coleman?

Bessie Coleman, born January 26 1892, was the first woman of African-American descent and Native-American descent to earn an international pilot’s license. Her goal was to encourage women and African Americans to reach their dreams. Unfortunately, her career ended with a tragic plane crash, but her life continues to inspire people around the world.

Born to a family of sharecroppers in Texas, Coleman went into the cotton fields at a young age while also studying in a small segregated school. She went on to attend one term of college at Langston University. She developed an early interest in flying after being teased by her brother about French women being allowed to fly planes whilst she couldn’t. May attempted to obtain a pilot’s license in the US but African Americans, Native Americans, and women had no flight training opportunities, so she saved up money and obtained sponsorships to go to France for flight school.

Bessie then became a high-profile pilot in notoriously dangerous air shows in the United States. She was popularly known as ‘Queen Bess’ and ‘Brave Bessie’, and hoped to start a school for African-American fliers before her tragic death. Her life was far from in vain and her pioneering role was an inspiration to early pilots as well as the African-American and Native American communities.

More of Bessie’s story is covered in detail in this New York Times article ‘Overlooked No More.

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