As a black woman, pioneer aviator Elizabeth Coleman overcame two career obstacles before dying in a flying accidentt on April 30, 1926.
Coleman—always known as Bessie—was born into a large family of Texas cotton farmers in 1892. She joined the great migration north in 1915, settling in Chicago. Her first job was as a manicurist.
Coleman was intrigued by stories of combat flying during World War I. Yet when the war ended, no American flight school would accept her. She had to go abroad to achieve her dream.
She learned French, saved her money, and got financial help from Defender publisher Robert S. Abbott and other businessmen. She went to France and earned her pilot’s license. Finally, in 1921, Bessie Coleman returned to the U.S. as the country’s first female African-American flier.
Commercial aviation was in its infancy. Coleman could become either a mail pilot or a stunt flier. Both were dangerous jobs, but stunt flying paid better.
Coleman was young, attractive, and extroverted.