By: Gisselle Venable
As January flies by and February starts to land, so does Black History Month. In each issue this month, I’ll be sharing the story of a Black historical figure that you may not have heard of.
It’s important to recognize the influence that Black historical figures hold on the past, present and future, and Bessie Coleman is no exception: she was the first Black woman and person of Native American descent to hold a pilot’s license.
In the early 1900s, it was difficult for a woman to get a pilot’s license. When Coleman’s brother returned from World War I in France, he spoke to her about the French women’s freedom to fly and told her many stories from the war. This inspired her greatly, and Coleman took action to become a pilot herself.
Unfortunately, she was turned down from every school she applied to because she was a Black woman. It was simply too hard for her to obtain a pilot’s license…in the United States, that is.
From then on out, Coleman set her heart into applying for a French flight school, even going as far as to learn the language! To her, this was easier than fighting discrimination in her own country. After all the hard work, Coleman was finally accepted into the Caudron Brothers’ Aviation School in Le Crotoy, France.
She earned her pilot’s license in June 1921 – which was, for perspective, six months before Amelia Earhart earned hers. Upon earning her license, Coleman was officially recognized as a pilot internationally. Her passion and effort had paid off, and this alone ensured her a spot in history.
Aside from her title as the first Black female pilot, Coleman was also an advocate for African American rights. She had faced discrimination firsthand and wasn’t going to forget that so easily.
Coleman directly challenged Jim Crow laws in refusing to speak – or fly – anywhere that discriminated against African Americans. Instead, she used the popularity of her career to encourage African Americans and women to learn how to fly. There’s no doubt that Coleman played a large part in Black female history, and she still stands as an influential figure in time.